Another year has come to an end, which means it’s time for the Dread Central staff to weigh in with their picks of the best and worst of 2013’s horror offerings. We’re giving you a full dozen 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. We averaged out the top and bottom five vote getters on everyone’s lists, and here are the results:
Runners-up: The Conjuring, Evil Dead
WORST: Texas Chainsaw 3D
Runners-up: The Purge, The Last Exorcism Part II
Check out the Dread Central staff’s Best of and Worst of lists for 2013 by following the links below!
Andrew Kasch’s Picks
STOKER: Chan-wook Park delivered some next-level filmmaking and his best film since Oldboy with his U.S. debut. Every shot and edit in Stoker is a work of calculated brilliance, and the ensemble cast make their characters both cruelly twisted and oddly sympathetic. A masterwork from one of the best living filmmakers.
RESOLUTION: Indie filmmakers Justin Benson and Aaron Moorehead knocked it out of the park with their micro-budget supernatural tale. Great characters are a dying breed in modern horror, and this tale of addiction and isolation is one of the creepiest and most original movies in years thanks to killer direction and a pair of phenomenal performances.
GRAVITY: Out of all the films in 2013, Alfonso Cuaron’s masterpiece left me the most physically wrecked. It’s a simple concept executed to Hitchcockian levels of perfection and one of the few box office smashes that actually deserved the hype.
PACIFIC RIM: Guillermo Del Toro delivered the most impressive visual spectacle since Jurassic Park with the ultimate love letter to kaiju and Harryhausen movies. Through incredibly orchestrated battles, a colorful cast, and some epic world-building, Pacific Rim succeeds where almost every summer movie failed and turned this jaded viewer into a 10-year-old kid again. Sure, you can nitpick elements of the movie to death, but anyone who would do that has lost their sense of awe and wonder. Pity anyone who puts this on their Worst list.
“HANNIBAL”: Forget “The Walking Dead”; the king of genre television in 2013 was Bryan Fuller’s shockingly great twist on Red Dragon. A procedural show with Hannibal Lecter sounded like the dumbest thing on Earth, but the results were actually worthy of The Silence of the Lambs. Perfectly cast with David Fincher-like direction, this is a show too good for network television.
The Conjuring – A classy old-school ghost film incredibly directed by James Wan.
The Last Will & Testament of Rosalind Leigh – One of the creepiest minimalist art-house horrors in years.
“Safe Haven” from V/H/S/2 – While the movie is uneven, this anthology segment is one of the best found-footage films, period.
The Lords of Salem – Rob Zombie’s flirtation with the avant-garde got a lot of hate but stands as his best and most matured work. A future cult classic.
Only God Forgives – Refn’s hyper-violent revenge movie is one of the best dark crime movies in recent memory.
Maniac – One of the few remakes that surpasses the original with one of the best scores in modern horror.
Note: I have not yet seen The Battery or We Are What We Are so this list feels incomplete.
Because of my low tolerance for Hollywood bullshit, I didn’t see nearly enough bad movies to warrant a “Worst” list. That said, I was suckered by Uncle Creepy into watching Fright Night 2 – a movie so bad, it deserves to take up the entire list.
And we can’t let 2013 pass without the mention of “Dexter,” which delivered what might be the worst final season in television history. Bon voyage!
Anthony Arrigo’s Picks
This was a good year for horror fans. It’d been a while since we last had a period so full of films worth our time, but ’13 proved to be a lucky number if you’re a cinephile. As usual, there were surprises, disappointments, lackluster entries, and forgettable tripe. I kept my list strictly horror, though I did want to mention that the best film of 2013 I’ve seen so far (still have a few theatrical releases to go) has been Nicolas Winding Refn’s Only God Forgives; the best film I saw for the first time was Ted Kotcheff’s uncomfortably affable gem from 1971, Wake in Fright; and, by far, the worst film I suffered through was (surprisingly) Neill Blomkamp’s cinematic slice of Socialist shit, Elysium.
The WNUF Halloween Special – This is exactly how you do found footage. The conceit of the film is simple – a news show anchor decides to investigate a local haunted house where a son murdered his parents twenty years earlier, all to be shown live on TV. The verisimilitude of the resulting film is shocking, and most would be hard pressed to tell if this is genuine footage or not. Even the commercials produced for the special look exactly like cheap, public access ads, right down to even the minutest details. And did I mention the whole thing was shot full-frame and passed through a VCR three times to give it the appropriate aging? The real treat here isn’t seeing whatever macabre madness results from opening up the long-abandoned house; it’s reveling in the ‘80s aesthetic that has been so lovingly recreated here. And believe me, they made this thing to play just as any news broadcast would, complete with an (almost) excessive number of commercials, constant teases to the big reveal, and quick news bytes that are just as slyly satirical as anything Paul Verhoeven has been behind. And they manage to do it all without a hint of irony! This just secured a spot in my yearly Halloween film rotation.
The Conjuring – James Wan’s ‘70s throwback was easily one of 2013’s horror highlights. The film wisely earned most of its scares through genuine, slow-build tension that culminated in a frenetic climax full of unsettling moments. All of the actors felt perfect in their roles, with everyone doing such great work that it’s hard to single out any one performance. I will say that I hadn’t been a big fan of Vera Farmiga before this year, though after this film and her work on “Bates Motel” I’m quickly coming around. If there’s any complaint, it’s that I could have done without the handful of jump scares scattered throughout, but it’s also hard to remember the last horror film that didn’t employ them in some way. Wan and his crew delivered a faithful recreation of the type of films Hollywood used to make back in the golden days. As if the main storyline wasn’t intriguing enough, the script smartly made use of the opening segment by running it as a parallel mystery throughout the film. Can I just say how refreshing it is to see a horror film that doesn’t rely on a cold opening that is never referenced again just to deliver a quick kill? It’s a damn shame Wan is getting out of the horror business after having such a hot year in 2013, though the right script could hopefully lure him back one day.
Evil Dead – Who the hell saw this coming, right? Director Fede Alvarez had an uphill battle from the moment the project was announced, and many fans – me included – had pitchforks ready to go. It was relatively shocking when the film turned out to work well as a kindred spirit to the original, distancing itself just enough to stand on its own while also retaining some trademarks of the series. And all that gloriously gory practical FX work! There’s so much to enjoy here that it almost overshadows the bad – things like Diablo Cody’s obvious and horrid flourishes added to the script, occasional uses of CGI that stuck out like a cold sore, being beaten over the head with exposition, and that god awful Magic Car Battery Defibrillator scene before the climax that had me groaning in my seat. Still, despite any shortcomings the film is a reminder of how effective R-rated horror still is, as well as proving that even sacrosanct films of the genre can be remade (or reimagined… whatever) with some level of integrity.
Curse of Chucky – Props to series creator Don Mancini for breathing new life into this 25-year-old franchise with a sequel that ditches a lot of the screwball humor of the previous two entries in favor of a more sinister tone. And, really, major props to Universal for not taking the obvious route of remaking the first film and instead actually giving fans a series to the classic timeline. There’s a ton of fan service scattered throughout, the slightly retconned history manages to work, and Fiona Dourif is as unsettlingly gorgeous as her father is unsettlingly creepy. Make sure to watch all the way through the end credits for an extra tidbit that really ties the whole series together. Bring on the next one!
The first two thirds of The Lords of Salem – Rob Zombie is easily one of the most divisive filmmakers working in horror today, with every one of his projects met with equal parts disdain and delight. But we (read: horror nerds) still go see them. Hell, if I can get through Halloween II (2009) – and I barely got through it – then anything else he’s behind should be a breeze. If nothing else, he’s always had an acute eye towards catching visuals that helps him tremendously on screen. His latest employs a great, rarely used concept – witchcraft! Nobody uses witches anymore. The story, which Zombie himself wrote, has a wonderfully creepy hook by having our lead, Heidi (Sheri Moon Zombie), working as a radio station DJ who receives a mysterious package containing a record. She plays it, women get hypnotized by some spell, people are KILLED! There are flashbacks to the old witchy days of Salem, where Meg Foster absolutely steals every frame of the film she’s in as Margaret Morgan, the old cackling servant of Satan. “Surely, with a setup this good Zombie won’t squander it”, is what you’re thinking. But then you come to…
The last third of The Lords of Salem – And everything goes horribly wrong. Was it the lack of budget? A lack of planning? Who knows? Well, I assume Rob does… I digress. A promising premise was completely eschewed to make room for gesticulating members of Immortal, melting pop art, crucified babies, and frantic shots of religious imagery. Basically, it devolves into a music video. I will say the final act isn’t so bad that I dislike the movie because of it, but it’s frustrating when a story bypasses logic and goes off on a tangent to its own detriment.
Sharknado – Foolishly, I bought into the hype and watched this Syfy Pictures original movie. Nothing starring Tara Reid and Ian Ziering is ever worth getting excited for, and an entire TORNADO MADE OF SHARKS is barely enough to endure this Z-level picture. Most of my amusement came from living in Southern California and knowing its street-level geography, so I was able to laugh at things like people getting eaten by sharks on the 405 because I often drive the 405 and wish sharks would eat most of the people driving on it. That novelty aside, it’s a ridiculous turd of a film. Now, you want to know what the best Syfy sharksploitation film that didn’t get enough love was called? Ghost Shark. Now that has a premise so fucking ridiculous you have to love it.
World War Z – I hated Brad Pitt’s bloated zombie epic almost as much as everyone else seems to like it. For one thing, the story of the UN sending off a former employee to commiserate around the globe, getting the red carpet treatment in every war-torn, crumbling society he travels to is laughable at best. Even worse, Pitt manages to learn almost nothing on these jaunts when meeting with persons in charge, but just as he’s leaving, usually amidst extreme chaos, he sees things in slow motion that provide a little piece of the puzzle we know he’s bound to solve. And then there’s that explosive plane crash he literally walks away from. And the asinine ending where Pitt makes a major leap in logic by assuming he knows how to repel flesh eaters by injecting himself with a random virus. In addition to all that mess, the zombies are really nothing more than a force of nature; a faceless horde bowling through cities like a large, bloodied CGI snowball. Horror fans have always been clamoring to see the zombie invasion on a full-scale, and now that we have it seems even more apparent that these films work best on a smaller, more personal level.
Zombie Hunter – I’m thinking the rationale behind making this film was something along these lines:
1. Sell film using large image of Danny Trejo holding an axe, have uncharismatic C-level actor be actual lead, kill Trejo early on.
The Purge – Talk about your all-time wasted opportunities… This low-budget production employed one of the more unique premises seen in recent years, then promptly squandered it by making a terrible home invasion flick full of clichés and annoying characters. I mean, you can show the whole of America letting their inner demons run wild for 12 hours; yet, the entire focus is on one family protecting a stranger in their home? That could have been just about any home invasion film; the interesting premise is instantly nullified when everything is so confined. Here’s hoping the upcoming sequel decides to get out of the house and let the concept breathe a little.
Brad McHargue’s Picks
Making a Best Of list is difficult, if only because I see so many horror movies on the festival circuit that have yet to be released by the end of the year. Can they logically be considered 2013 films? If you go by my list last year, then yes. It’s why I’m not including The Battery, The Last Will & Testament of Rosalind Leigh, and The Conspiracy on this year’s list, as all comprised the top three of last year’s.
Given that I’ve actually seen plenty this year that received a real release, I’ll be falling in line with the majority of my colleagues and comprising a real list of the Best and Worst horror films of 2013 that were released in theaters, VOD, or on DVD. And while I acknowledge that The Conjuring was a fun watch and actually pretty creepy, its story was so boring and formulaic that it definitely doesn’t deserve a spot on this list. Sorry, but it’s the truth.
Escape From Tomorrow: Set against the backdrop of Disney World, Escape from Tomorrow is a surreal and extremely dark look at one man’s mid-life crisis as he spends the final day of his vacation following a pair of French lolitas throughout the park, all while experiencing disturbing visions. Its avant-garde approach to shooting, along with its creepy imagery and bizarre look at the seemingly saccharine nature of the “happiest place on Earth,” ensures that the film will remain divisive, but it’s so damned unique and eerie at times that it remains one of my favorite films of the year.
Jug Face: Religious horror is a guilty pleasure of mine, provided it doesn’t focus on the Catholic Church. We get it. Demons are real. But in Chad Crawford Kinkle’s frightening Jug Face, a young girl is threatened with death by her community’s backwoods belief system that involves the worship of a mysterious pit. Despite a supernatural bent that doesn’t quite work when you want it to, Kinkle keeps the suspense flowing, bolstered by wonderful performances by Sean Bridgers and Lauren Ashley Carter.
You’re Next: I reviewed You’re Next way back in 2011 when I saw it as part of Fantastic Fest, and while it didn’t make a year-end list then, Adam Wingard’s send-up of the home invasion genre is dark, funny, violent, and guaranteed to make “Lookin’ for the Magic” by The Dwight Tilley Band your new favorite song. Lucky for us Wingard and his writing partner Simon Barrett have no signs of slowing down, with their forthcoming The Guest premiering at Sundance early next year.
Maniac: A remake of the 1980 thriller from William Lustig, this Elijah Wood vehicle follows the perspective of Frank, a serial killer who works as a mannequin restoration artist by day. At night he wanders the streets, stalking and killing women due to some deep-seated mommy issues. It’s not high art, but Wood’s performance, combined with Rob’s amazing score and Franck Khalfoun’s unique first-person perspective, makes Maniac not just an amazing film, but one of the rare remakes that actually works.
100 Bloody Acres: This one took me by surprise, but this Aussie gore flick that follows two brothers who use dead bodies as the “secret ingredient” in their fertilizer is filled with enough heart and humor that it elevates itself above most of the gore-for-gore’s-sake dreck that we tend to see. It’s violent, bloody fun and supported by great performances from all involved, particularly Damon Herriman, who plays the shy younger brother that begins to fall for one of his victims.
Special Mention: These films haven’t been released yet, but you should keep them on your radar anyways.
The Sacrament: It’s getting a release on VOD in May, but Ti West’s The Sacrament, in which a team of Vice reporters infiltrate a Jonestown-like cult to discover what happened to their friend’s sister, is easily West’s best film, thanks in part to the incredible performances of AJ Bowen and Gene Jones. Jones dominates the screen with his towering personality, offset by his seemingly feeble physical appearance, making for one of the most memorable and downright frightening characters – and films – in horror this year.
Big Bad Wolves: Aahron Keshales and Navot Papushado’s Rabies found its way on many Best Of lists a couple of years ago, and while their follow-up, Big Bad Wolves, isn’t exactly a horror film, it’s simply too good to not be mentioned. Quentin Tarantino dubbed it one of the best films of the year, and the Israeli duo responsible for directing the first Israeli horror film ever are poised to headline the genre’s list of greatest contemporary directors.
The Dirties: A found footage thriller that focuses on a young man’s obsession with film and getting revenge on the bullies that torment him at school, The Dirties is not just a great film, it’s an important one. It puts the focus not just on bullying, but on how it’s often overlooked by family members, friends, and outsiders, despite being placed front and center.
Bloody Homecoming: When I wrote my review of this ridiculously awful slasher film, the writer of the film came out of the woodwork and attacked me for not “getting it.” Apparently there’s a method to boring, rote, low-budget slashers devoid of anything remotely interesting or original, so kudos to him, I guess.
Absence: I adore found footage, but I admit almost all of it sucks. That said, a found footage thriller involving a woman’s unborn child disappearing from her womb sounded like it had potential. And it did! For the first five minutes! Then it becomes an hour of annoying characters, nonsensical scares, and an offensively lazy ending.
Insidious 2: I’m unapologetic in my saying that Insidious is half a decent movie. Its sequel doesn’t even have that luxury. Wan’s style helped make The Conjuring a damned fine film, but his eye for suspense is non-existent in Insidious 2. It’s a hurried mess of disjointed plot and piss poor acting that it’s amazing the two are from the same director.
Texas Chainsaw 3D: Just pure laziness and some of the worst one-liners in horror history. (“Do your thing, cuz.”)
Buz “Danger” Wallick’s Picks
5) EVIL DEAD ’13 – What can I say about the Evil Dead remake that hasn’t already been said? This was one of the most entertaining filmgoing experiences I’ve ever had. I squealed with joy every time a face was ripped away or an arm cut off. And by the end, right when my brain was thinking, “Man, this movie is gory…” IT STARTED TO RAIN GODDAMN BLOOD! It was glorious. So very glorious.
4) GRABBERS – I love monster movies. I also love movies that make you feel like you’re on a bender. Grabbers is both of those things, along with sexy Irish accents. The basic premise is these monsters that crave human blood attack this small Irish community, and they discover that if they are drunk, the monsters won’t attack them because the alcohol is poison to them. Yes. It is just as awesome as you imagine it is. Seriously, I LOVED this movie. It’s streaming on Netflix, so watch it.
3) MANIAC – Those that know me well know that I am not a huge fan of slasher flicks. They don’t scare me, and I find them rather tedious. And to be honest I have only seen the original Maniac once, and besides a few moments I found the experience as a whole to be tedious. That was not the case with the remake. No only did it disturb me to my core, I couldn’t stop thinking about it afterwards. I even called my girlfriend an hour after seeing the movie and telling her she wasn’t allowed to walk alone in LA anymore. Which is another reason I loved it so much; how LA centric it was. Very few movies capture the shitty grime and glamour of Los Angeles and MANIAC ’13 nailed it.
2) RESOLUTION – Haven’t heard of this movie? What are you waiting for? GET ON NETFLIX AND WATCH IT NOW! Resolution is a simple yet complex horror film that made my skin crawl. And it does what few horror films do nowadays: present interesting characters you WANT to see make it. There are so many movies that have interesting concepts but fail because the characters are so one-dimensional. RESOLUTION knocks this out of the park, and thanks to a recommendation from Andrew Kasch, it is one of my favorite movies of the year.
1) THE LAST OF US – What’s this? A video game on a best movies of the year list? Yeah, I don’t care; The Last of Us was better than any movie this year by a large margin. Not saying that all movies this year were bad or anything, that’s just how good THE LAST OF US is. I was so compelled by the story of TLOU that I started to just play the game in order to progress the story and get to the next cut scene (which when all cut together makes for a riveting 6-hour movie you can find on YouTube). It was also the first time I ever became emotionally upset if I accidentally got my character(s) killed. I was so attached to them that it was horrifying to me to see them harmed in any way. Playing as Joel, I HAD to protect Ellie, at all costs. I truly felt those stakes. If you haven’t played this game, for the love of God get out there and do it. I bought a PS3 just to play this game and it was worth every penny. THE LAST OF US gets best of everything for 2013.
BIG ASS SPIDER! and CONTRACTED are definitely owed some love. Both are great movies that you can watch on VOD if you haven’t yet. Seriously, these movies ROCK.
And honestly, WAKE IN FRIGHT would have been my number one movie of the year because I just watched it on Netflix a few weeks ago. However, it came out 30 years ago so it doesn’t work for 2013. That being said, it’s on Netflix streaming so you must see this movie. It’s incredible.
I need to preface the following list by pointing out that I do my absolute best to avoid bad movies. I hate watching bad movies, I hate paying for them, I hate wasting my time. So with that being said, I didn’t see a whole lot of bad stuff. Which is why you will only see 4 things on this list. The bad things I did see though pissed me off something mighty because I wasted my time on it. Thus, they will incur my wrath (or a strongly worded article three people might read).
4) PACIFIC RIM – Yep. You all knew this was going to be on my list. When I first came out of the theater, I was just mildly frustrated that it wasn’t as good as I thought it was going to be. Then I really started to think about it and break down what was wrong. That’s when I realized there was only one scene in the entire movie that I liked, the rest was just me desperately trying to like the rest or me becoming enraged that the bad human performances were being thrown in my face in so-so 3D. I just can’t. The movie is a mess and is one of the single worst scripts I’ve seen in a theatrical release in years. It’s an embarrassment to the Kaiju genre (something I love very much).
If you like it, great! I really don’t care. But don’t you dare try and sit there and tell me the acting, writing, or direction is anything more than utter shit.
3) THE HAUNTING IN CONNECTICUT: GHOSTS OF GEORGIA – Why? Why was this made? Why did I watch it? Why write anything else about this vapid sorry excuse for a horror movie? WAIT. Katee Sackoff was great. That answers question number two. The rest of the film is pure nonsensical garbage.
2) “SUPERNATURAL” EPISODE 9.04 – “SLUMBER PARTY” – I adore “Supernatural.” Two badass dudes ride around in a sweet muscle car, listen to classic rock, and battle evil. Seriously, it’s one of my favorite shows on television. And while there have been some bad episodes here and there, the good far outweighs the bad. And then this episode happened.
Firstly, I can’t stand Felicia Day’s character, “Charlie,” so that’s strike number 1. But then to make this whole terrible story about the real Dorthy and the land of Oz….blah blah holy Christ, it’s terrible. Remember when I said “Supernatural” is one of my favorite shows? This episode was so bad that I almost gave up on the entire show. It is the Doublemeat Palace episode of Supernatural. For you non-“Buffy” fans, I’m not changing that reference and you should feel bad for not getting it; now go watch “Buffy.”
Luckily the season got back on track a few weeks later, but I will forever remember that episode for being the lowest the show has ever gotten.
Now, speaking of shows that can’t get their shit together…
1) “THE WALKING DEAD” SEASON 3 FINALE – I really wanted to just put the entire last half of Season 3 on here as well as the first half of Season 4; however, a few things kept me from doing that. One being everyone else’s weepy hurt feelings whenever I criticize their precious show and I didn’t want to offend their delicate sensibilities (they’re already going to cry foul when they see Pacific Rim up there), and two that there were a few genuine cool moments… not many, but a few.
That being said, no one can defend the third season finale, in which the writers and showrunners LOST THEIR GODDAMN MINDS.
The Governor, having run out of cool leather vests to wear I’m assuming, decides to attack the prison with his merry band of Woodbury sheep. They have assault rifles and grenade launchers. Then two people start shooting at them (a group of 30+ people armed to the teeth) and The Governor and the rest of his flock decide to escape the terrifying counter attack of a skinny Asian dude and his girlfriend. I cannot believe that this was acceptable to anyone at AMC. It’s embarrassing.
Oh, and I haven’t even mentioned them killing off television’s most poorly written character in a desperate attempt to gain fan forgiveness. A death that meant absolutely nothing. NOTHING. No great sacrifice, no saving the day. Just not being able to pick up some pliers in time. What a load of horseshit.
This single episode of television was so bad that they spent the first half of the next season trying to correct it.
Debi “The Woman in Black” Moore’s Picks
I wasn’t going to do a list this year – it’s been super busy, and I still had to help edit and post everyone else’s picks. But then I looked in my trusty notebook in which I rank all the horror movies I watched over the past year. There were some really great films that people need to know about – as well as a good bit of crap that they should avoid. So, what could I do but grab some coffee, throw in a load of laundry (“multi-tasking” is my middle name these days), and set aside a few minutes to share this Woman’s thoughts on 2013, a year that I, for one, am quite happy to kick in its ass on its way out the door.
Before getting to the cream of the crop, here are a few Honorable Mentions. Leading the sci-fi pack, of course, is a masterpiece that’s showing up on a lot of mainstream top of the year lists, Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity, and it’s joined in both star power and unrelenting tension by Prisoners, a real tour de force for stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Hugh Jackman.
The best indie I saw was Would You Rather?, which is bolstered by yet another standout performance from Jeffrey Combs. V/H/S/2 earned the “Comeback of the Year” Award while the biggest surprise was how much The Call didn’t suck. Let’s also bestow that comeback title on Brad Anderson, who was long overdue for a strong showing. And when it comes to 2013’s two high-profile apocalyptic comedies, I have to give a slight edge to This Is the End over The World’s End, but it’s slight indeed – both are well worth a watch (or re-watch).
Sleep Tight (Mientras duermes) – Some entries on this list are more along the lines of what I enjoyed most or stuck with me the longest rather than technically the “best” of what I saw all year, but hands down Sleep Tight was THE best film of 2013 for me in every category, despite the fact that it was also the first film I saw last year. It definitely left a lasting impression, to say the least. The performances, especially Luis Tosar as César; the sparse, taut direction by Jaume Balagueró; and just the overall icky idea of what we’re watching unfold on the screen were second to none in my humble opinion.
Frankenstein’s Army – Fun with a capital “F” and some of the craziest, most over-the-top creatures you’re likely to see this year, next year, or ever! Just another reason for my love affair with Karel Roden (which began with one of my Best of 2006’s picks, The Abandoned) to continue unabashed and unabated.
Warm Bodies – What can I say? I’m just a big softie for a cute zombie, and Nicholas Hoult’s “R” was the cutest we’ve ever seen. This is another film that played very early in the year but stayed with me, and a nice side effect was that writer/director Jonathan Levine’s All The Boys Love Mandy Lane finally got the release it deserved after seven long years of limbo.
Evil Dead – A pretty good example of how to do a remake right (as opposed to #3 on the list below), Fede Alvarez’s reboot lives and dies on the strength of its Ash character (in this case, a female druggie named Mia), and Jane Levy does not disappoint. They put her through the ringer, and she shines in one of the gutsiest performances of the year.
The Conjuring – The Conjuring is in that rarest of the rare breed of films that I watched twice and liked even more the second time around. As spooky haunted house stories go, this is for sure one of the better ones we’ve seen lately. And as long as Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson return as the Warrens, we’ll keep showing up for as many sequels as there are creepy cases that they worked on.
And lastly, a quick special shout-out to all the great horror TV shows like “Hannibal,” “Bates Motel,” “Sleepy Hollow,” “Grimm,” “The Walking Dead,” “In the Flesh,” “Being Human,” and “American Horror Story: Coven” that provided the best chills and thrills of the year by far.
What films weren’t so successful? Well, I feel like I dodged a lot of bullets last year because of simply not having the time to watch the ones I was pretty sure wouldn’t be very good. As for those I couldn’t escape or that fooled me into thinking they had promise, the Bottom 5 would have to be:
No One Lives – Dullsville and a real missed opportunity with a cast and crew that certainly sounded good on paper… wait… what?
Despite their obvious differences, these two films had a lot in common, including being among the worst of what I watched in 2013. So much potential… so little enjoyment. As Gareth has said, “no one cared” about No One Lives while The Purge inexplicably cleaned up at the box office and has a sequel on the way. We’re holding out hope that the only way for it to go is up!
Texas Chainsaw 3D – As alluded to above, this quasi-“direct sequel” to the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre got just about everything wrong. From the age of its protagonist to trying to elicit sympathy for a family of murderous cannibals to just about every other choice the filmmakers made, it’s one mistake after another that we’d rather just not ever have to think about again.
The Last Exorcism Part II – I liked The Last Exorcism quite a bit and looked forward to Part II. Unfortunately, it was an under-developed mess that only got interesting in the last five minutes or so. Maybe a sequel to a movie titled “The Last” anything wasn’t such a great idea after all.
The Lords of Salem – Just so we’re clear… I love experimental films. Movies don’t need to always make sense for me to enjoy them. Which is why I feel a bit bad about including The Lords of Salem in this spot since it is enjoyable on a stylistic level with some incredible imagery. However, the story meanders and never gels into something cohesive or especially interesting, Sheri isn’t a strong enough actor to carry the film, and it’s ultimately very unfulfilling. The bottom line is that The Lords of Salem is just not good.
The Foywonder’s Picks
The mere fact that I found it much harder to compile my worst list than my best list for a change is proof that 2013 was a solid year for the horror genre. Or it could just be proof that I chose to skip a lot of movies I knew would be terrible. Have you seen The Last Exorcism Part II? I damn sure didn’t. In any case, most of my honorable mentions could have just as easily made it onto my top five, and even most of the bad movies this year were more mediocre than outright affronts to cinema.
Now, before I begin by listing my choices for the best horror movies of 2013, I would like to take a moment to give special recognition to the best non-horror horror movie of the year:
12 YEARS A SLAVE – I can hear many of you grumbling right now: “12 Years a Slave isn’t a horror movie!” Oh? You’re happily married with kids and a thriving career. One day you wake up in chains, stripped of your identity, and any attempt to stand up for yourself is met with violent reprisal. You’re sold into bondage under false pretenses, forced to live in squalor, and warned that if you ever let anyone know who you really are, you will be killed. You’re regarded as subhuman by people who wouldn’t hesitate to savagely maim or murder you for even the most minor infraction, even if you’re in the right; sometimes even forced to deliver brutal beatings to your own friends on their behalf. You don’t know whom you can trust, and the only people who can help you fear doing so because it could potentially cost them their own lives. Every single day you are worked to the bone and know you could be killed at a moment’s notice for no other reason than that’s how little your life means to your captors. And you live this nightmare day in and day out for a dozen years. Still want to tell me 12 Years a Slave isn’t a horror movie? It’s the most horrific movie of the year because it’s the one that actually happened.
Not only did I come close to including this on my best list, I was prepared to top my list with it. Since doing so would probably cause too much of an uproar, I will simply bestow upon it special recognition for being the year’s greatest feel-bad horror movie that is not actually a horror movie.
With that out of the way, I now present my five favorite horror movies of 2013, in no particular order:
MY AMITYVILLE HORROR – In an age when embarrassing displays of paranormal crackpottery have become a staple of cable television “reality” programs (I’m looking at you, “Finding Bigfoot”), a documentary such as this that casts a pragmatic, skeptical eye is a breath of fresh air. Think you know everything there is to know about the infamous “Amityville Horror”? Think again. My Amityville Horror left me convinced of two things: the real “Amityville Horror” was anything but in terms of supernatural horror, and the real Daniel Lutz is in serious need of deep psychological therapy he will probably never receive because there are too many kooks and charlatans out there willing to enable him and he is far too angry and lost in his own delusion to ever want to truly confront the real psychological scars of his unhappy childhood. There was a dark force in the Lutz house, and young Daniel called him “dad.” See it and judge for yourself. In what has been a banner year for documentaries in general, My Amityville Horror will go down as one of the most riveting.
LESSON OF THE EVIL – If you loved the Maniac remake, then just wait until you get shot in the face with Takeshi Miike’s mean-spirited new thriller about a psychopathic teacher who manipulates his way into the lives of his students and fellow teachers before unleashing a high school killing spree the likes of which hasn’t been seen since Battle Royale. A subtle, slow-burning first half melding high school melodrama and psychological thriller gives way to a second half that is nothing short of a volcanic eruption: a “Cronenbergian Columbine” mixing Battle Royale caliber violence, dark humor, and some truly surreal moments. Disturbing, thrilling, smart, and sometimes strange – exactly what we’ve all come to expect from Miike.
SHARKNADO – I make no apologies for my total enjoyment of Sharknado. Never would I have imagined when I watched a screener of this Asylum/Syfy flick that two weeks later it would explode the internet and become a mini-cultural phenomenon. Before hipsters began loving it ironically, before their high-minded opposites shoved their sticks even further up their asses at the very notion that a movie such as this could be enjoyable, before the title reached an oversaturation point that even made me get sick of hearing about it, there was still that magical late night when Uncle Creepy and I laughed our asses off at the absurdity of this modern day Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. The rest of you can love it or hate it; I don’t care. I had more fun watching Sharknado than I did most every other film this past summer.
THE WNUF HALLOWEEN SPECIAL – As someone who works for a local television station and has dealt with all manner of old TV footage from the same time period this film is set in, The WNUF Halloween Special is not just a clever horror comedy – it’s a work of art. Actually, WNUF is more of a sly Halloween-themed media satire with some aspects of horror thrown in. It may also quite possibly be the best use of the found footage format I’ve ever seen. Lovingly degenerated to appear as if it were copied from a VHS recording down several generations and formatted to look like a long-lost 1988 Halloween night broadcast of a small market evening news show that leads into a live half-hour special in which one of their investigative reporters enters a local haunted house, all of which goes comically and horrifically awry, complete with commercial breaks filled with brilliantly accurate-to-the-era phony ads. WNUF is definitely a niche film that won’t appeal to everyone, especially those looking to be scared, and even I have to admit they drag things out a bit too long, going overboard with the commercial breaks. I still loved this movie and intend to make it staple of my annual Halloween movie rotation for years to come..
V/H/S/2 – Timo Tjahjanto and Gareth Evans’ “Safe Haven” segment is the best 20 minutes of horror this whole year. The rest of this anthology movie ain’t half bad either. Admittedly, I found the wraparounds fairly unengaging and the opening segment about the robotic eye was skippable. Things pick up in a big way with Eduardo Sanchez’s fairly ingenious Go-Pro perspective chronicling the short lifespan of a zombie and Jason Eisener’s visceral alien abduction home movie climax. In between is a short film that hits all the right notes of foreboding dread, surreal eeriness, subtle humor, and adrenalized WTF-ness. For the “Safe Haven” segment alone I have to put V/H/S/2 at the top of my list of the best horror movies of 2013. Sorry, Rex Reed.
Honorable Mentions: You’re Next, John Dies at the End, Maniac, Pacific Rim, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, The Conjuring
On the flip side of the coin, here comes the crappola! In no particular order, unless we’re tossing the master prints in a shredder like they deserve:
TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D – I could easily dismiss this movie as yet another forgettable crummy horror sequel, the likes of which we should already be used to by now. Heck, it’s not even the worst sequel in this particular franchise. Shrugging it off like so many Children of the Corn sequels would be easy if it were not for one utterly unforgivable mathematical insult I cannot ignore. A girl born in 1974 is still a 20-year-old in 2013. This failure of first-grade arithmetic displays a level of contempt for the viewer made all the more aggravating knowing so many of you out there were okay with it so long as “cuz” did his thing. I’ve often said there’s a fine line between suspension of disbelief and insulting the audience’s intelligence. This was neither. This was a great big middle finger by someone behind the scenes who assumes the average horror fan isn’t smart enough or doesn’t care enough to count.
STRANDED – From the director of Battlefield Earth comes a film that’s even worse. If nothing else, Battlefield Earth had some real camp value. Stranded has no value. Boring, unimaginative, idiotic characters, 1970’s model kit effects, a plot only slightly longer than a logline, long stretches of tedium, jargon-heavy perfunctory dialogue, and did I mention that every character is such a complete frakkin’ idiot they’re written to not even comprehend how the concept of quarantine works? You can make a drinking game out of how many times Christian Slater orders someone to quarantine even after he and others repeatedly break that quarantine. I don’t recommend playing that drinking game because it would still require you to squander 90 minutes of your life watching Stranded.
NO ONE LIVES – What a stupid, stupid movie – stupid and ugly. The usually reliable Ryûhei Kitamura delivered a horror movie hate-fuck that makes, amongst its many critical errors, the fatal mistake of thinking it’s smarter, slicker, and edgier than it actually is. Between Luke Evans’ poseur of an all-knowing, all-powerful, unstoppable, too-cool-for-school serial killer, the cavalcade of slow-witted crooks and killers he terrorizes, and the absolutely ninny of a female protagonist he’s after, nary a single likable, sympathetic person or entertaining character is to be found. Nor a brain cell among any of them. I went from being disinterested to outright hating No One Lives the moment Evans pulled a Dr. Giggles, emerging naked and covered in blood from the hollowed out torso of an overweight victim he’d been hiding inside of for no logical reason whatsoever other than someone clearly thought this was a cool visual. There would still be another hour of this crap to follow. Yet another screwjob from WWE Studios.
R.I.P.D. – Nothing works on any level. Not as comedy. Not as action. Not as fantasy. Not as horror. Not as anything. Rushing through every bit of plot and character development like a hyperactive kid cranked up on sugar and loaded with performances equally one-note, this Men in Black rip-off by way of “The Real Ghostbusters” Saturday morning cartoon is as exhausting as it is unfunny. Ryan Reynolds appears completely lost (and very tired) trying to play straight man to Jeff Bridges’ Wild West Captain Jack Sparrow (amusing for the first five minutes, grating for the next 80). That Hollywood may have finally figured out that Ryan Reynolds and comic book movie adaptations don’t mix is about the only positive to come out of this stinkbomb. That and now Mill Creek Entertainment finally has the much-needed fourth film to round out a future four-film disc with Dylan Dog: Dead of Night, Jonah Hex, and Man-Thing.
GALLOWWALKER – Not just the worst horror movie of 2013; also the worst movie from the five or six years ago when it was originally filmed. Wesley Snipes may have been released from prison this year, but Gallowwalker really should have stayed locked up. Either this “The Good, The Blade, and The Ugly” was an unfinished film ultimately Frankensteined together using a lot of b-roll or the product of a filmmaker failing miserably to make a Jodorowsky-esque comic book movie. All I can say for certain is that around the 25-minute mark when a character asks Snipes’ gunslinger to explain what in the hell is going on, I felt like this person was speaking on behalf of myself and most anyone else that hadn’t already shut off the movie due to being so bored, confused, and fed up with this shit. What is going on most of the time, including why characters are saying and doing most of what they do, is predominantly a mystery to the audience, and I don’t mean the sort of mystery you’re intrigued by and can’t wait to see unfold. I mean mystery in the sense that there’s barely any plot to begin with and basic elements simply explaining the set-up don’t even get revealed until well into the movie. The best thing that could have ever happened to Gallowwalker would have been for it to remain unreleased forever and have its legend grow. Instead they went and released it so I could proclaim it the absolute worst horror movie of 2013.
Dishonorable Mentions: The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, The Frankenstein Theory, Hansel & Gretel: Warriors of Witchcraft, I Spit on Your Grave 2, The Bell Witch Haunting, Birdemic 2: The Resurrection
Gareth “Pestilence” Jones’ Picks
The Borderlands – Solid British horror makes a spectacular comeback with Elliot Goldner’s tale of spooky happenings at a secluded church in the wilds of the West Country. Genuinely unsettling and populated with superbly realised characters (with performances to boot), forget whether you’re generally a fan of the found footage style and check this one out as soon as you possibly can.
Banshee Chapter – More otherworldly threats rear their ugly heads in Blair Erickson’s excellent mix of true-life mystery, government experimentation and Lovecraftian terror. Frequently frightening, and guaranteed to plant a seed of serious curiosity in your mind, Banshee Chapter pushes all the right buttons for a scary time at the movies.
Delivery – Taking the found footage conventions and flipping them into a supposedly unaired television episode, Brian Netto’s Delivery is an impeccably-acted descent into personal hell as an expectant mother becomes convinced that her unborn child has been possessed by a demon. Featuring the single most jaw-dropping finale in the genre this year, this film could put you off having children for life.
Cheap Thrills – In your most desperate position, just how far would you allow yourself to be used, abused and humiliated for cold, hard cash? How much is enough… and how much is too much? Director E.L. Katz and writers David Chirchirillo and Trent Haaga explore this predicament magnificently as two old friends are pitted at odds in increasingly abusive situations at the behest of their new, ultra-rich drinking buddy. Fear, mirth, despair, violence, degradation, brutality and tragedy are all laid bare over the course of one fateful night in a film that crackles with energy and some stunning performances from the leads.
Big Bad Wolves – Just how impressive this Israeli entry is could be extolled all day and night, but suffice to say for now that directors Aharon Keshales and Navot Paupshado manage to take the controversial themes of paedophilia, infanticide, police corruption and vigilante justice and turn it all into one wildly (and perhaps inappropriately) entertaining, wince-inducing, humourous and bombastic piece of work that constantly thrills and challenges for the entirety of the runtime. Film of the year, and absolutely deservedly so.
Honourable Mentions: Motivational Growth, Missionary, The Last Days, V/H/S/2
Thanatomorphose – A nondescript young woman gets mistreated and rots away slowly in her apartment. Interminably drawn out and woefully underdeveloped, Thanatomorphose can’t even be recommended for the admittedly superb and stomach-churning practical effects.
Dementamania – Quite simply one of the most distressingly bland entries this year in terms of narrative, Dementamania really does seem like it’s getting off on the right foot. Yet, it never steps forward, instead simply relaying to you a thousand other psycho-babble thrillers that pass it by. Then it promptly falls flat on its face and slowly pisses itself, weeping ever so softly throughout.
Outpost: Rise of the Spetsnaz – Swiftly followed by Outpost: Manic Pressing of the Eject Button and Outpost: Violent Disposal of a DVD, this turgid third entry has even less appeal than its woeful predecessor. Just don’t bother.
I Spit On Your Grave 2 – Feeling more like the filmmakers are spitting directly in your face rather than the general direction of your grave, this insipid sequel is a soulless, cynical cash-grab utterly devoid of almost any redeeming features. An exercise in nothing but sheer disgust and simplistic reaction baiting, there’s nothing on offer here that any of us need eating up time in our lives.
Biggest Disappointment: The Dead 2: India
A considerable improvement over the previous year, 2013 managed to give viewers some of the best genre cinema of the last half-decade. As a result, I’ll forego the usual route of “5 Best, 5 Worst” and instead focus only on the positive (of which there was a considerable amount).
So, without further ado, here is my own personal list of the Top Ten Horror Films of 2013.
10. “D is for Dogfight” – The first of two short films I’ve included on this list, “D is for Dogfight” was easily the crowning jewel in the otherwise mediocre anthology The ABCs of Death. Helmer Marcel Sarmiento directs his brief tale with loads of style, presenting his grim “man vs. pooch” story entirely in slow motion with little audio other than its pounding soundtrack. It’s an impressive and stylish accomplishment and stands as one of the more assured pieces of filmmaking this past year saw. If you have a spare few minutes, watch this film!.
9. American Mary – Ginger Snaps’ Katharine Isabelle gives a great performance in this, the second film from Jen and Sylvia Soska (the “Twisted Twins” and directors of Dead Hooker in a Trunk). Mary finds Isabelle as the eponymous character, a young med student who falls into performing illegal body modification surgeries to support herself financially. When a violent incident sends Mary spiraling into madness, the film’s heroine slowly transforms into the (admittedly sympathetic) villain of the piece, racking up a body count even as her sanity erodes. This film’s strong lead performance, offbeat subject matter, and beautiful photography make this a must-see.
8. Twixt – Francis Ford Coppola’s second foray into the fright arena (after Bram Stoker’s Dracula) is a beautifully made, strongly acted, and utterly charming little curio full of quirk, comedy, and heart. Val Kilmer is great as Hall Baltimore, a washed-up writer searching for redemption (and a good story) in a little town David Lynch might very well enjoy visiting. In the wake of the many negative reviews leading up to this film’s release, Twixt managed to completely surprise and delight this reviewer.
7. “Safe Haven” – Included as part of the V/H/S/2 anthology (which was surprisingly good and far better than its predecessor), this collaboration between filmmakers Gareth Evans and Timo Tjahjanto is the single most horrific, nerve-shredding horror film I’ve seen all year (maybe a couple of years). This found footage marvel concerns a film crew documenting an Indonesian cult’s practices, which quickly turns horrific when… well, while I wouldn’t dare spoil any of the movie’s shocks, I will say that it packs more power and terror in its scant running time than most modern horror flicks could ever hope to. A stunning film.
6. Stoker – Park Chan-Wook’s first venture into American cinema is easily 2013’s best directed film, featuring stellar performances, gorgeous photography, and some of the most masterfully crafted sequences of the filmmaker’s impressive career. Though the film’s script occasionally lets down the talent bringing it to life, Stoker stands as a haunting, gorgeously realized film that should delight fans of slow-burn cinema and Southern Gothic thrillers.
5. Maniac – P2 director Franck Khalfoun atones for that dreadful 2007 film with one of the most intense and grisly films of 2013. With its POV conceit and star Elijah Wood’s powerful turn, Maniac not only tops its grindhouse predecessor, it stands alongside such movies as The Thing and The Fly as one of the greatest horror remakes ever produced.
4. The Conjuring – James Wan’s follow-up to Insidious is masterfully made – boasting perfect direction, wonderful acting, and a great story which (finally) introduces cinemagoers to Ed and Lorraine Warren, the legendary ghost hunters/demonologists who consulted on some of the greatest paranormal cases of the last half century. Oh, and the film is scary as hell, too. This is an instant classic of the genre.
3. Prisoners – Though its core mystery is easy enough to suss out by the thirty-minute mark, director Denis Villeneuve’s follow-up to his lauded 2010 film Incendies is a smart, tough, and genuinely harrowing thriller featuring sharp dialogue, brilliant performances (the entire cast is stellar), and some of the most uncomfortable and truly horrific sequences in all of cinema this past year. The final twenty minutes alone will leave you white-knuckled and gasping, even as the film’s complicated moral questions will stay with you long after the credits roll.
2. Gravity – Not a horror film, you say? Hear me out: Filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity counts as both drama and science fiction, sure, but few of 2013’s big screen offerings instilled this viewer with as much dread and terror as watching Sandra Bullock’s emotionally broken astronaut fight for her life in the most unforgiving of environments and hopeless of circumstances. Anchored by that star’s riveting performance and Cuarón’s visionary direction (to say nothing of the flawless visual effects), Gravity is an emotionally gripping and genuinely scary film and is well worth a look from lovers of all genres.
1. Resolution – What a nice feeling, to watch a film and feel as though you’re viewing something entirely new. Though this debut feature from directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead certainly flaunts some recognizable genre tropes, Resolution almost defies categorization – giving viewers what initially seems to be a simple tale, only to add layer after layer of menace and mystery to its core story of two estranged friends at odds with one another in a remote location. The film is at turns funny, scary, and genuinely moving; and it never fails to be smart and original.
In addition to its unique concept and solid production values, Resolution is home to two of the best performances of the year (hats off to leads Peter Cilella and Vinny Curran, who are pitch perfect throughout). While its unique concept and abrupt ending may turn off some viewers, this writer felt that Resolution was easily the best damned film of 2013. I cannot wait to see what this film’s stars and filmmakers see fit to do next.
Honorable Mentions – Evil Dead, Curse of Chucky, The Battery
2013 was a good year for horror movies. Because of this, I spent a long while agonizing over my top five “best” choices—there were more contenders than there was real estate, and I could’ve done ten entries without breaking a sweat. As such I included a few “honorable mentions” below—movies that were considered for my top five at one time or another.
2013 was also a good year because, for the first time in my Dread tenure, I could not come up with a complete list of bad films. I know some will read this as a cop-out and I apologize for that, but I pledged to avoid 2013’s biggest wastes of time until I had tracked down everything reputable. I saw a few bad ones, sure, but not enough to fill out five slots on a list.
A quick word about my criteria: I make it a point to include films officially released this year. No festival movies or screeners for things unreleased. I want to pick from the same pool of films the readership does to add value while facilitating discussion and reflection on what we all got to see this past year.
V/H/S/2 – I did not like the first V/H/S, so my expectations for the sequel were nonexistent. But this one kicks into high gear to deliver one of the best anthologies of all time. The POV zombie segment is cute, energetic and clever, while the climactic alien abduction story is funny until it becomes creepy. The real star of the show, however, is “Safe Haven,” 40 minutes of astonishing filmmaking that culminates in some of the craziest visuals I’ve ever seen. No hyperbole.
Curse of Chucky – This sixth installment in the long-running Child’s Play franchise is one of the very best in the series. It’s clever, playful and brings the fun without skimping on the suspense. In another, less-crowded year, this would sit easily in my top five. Chucky goes back to his menacing roots, and writer/director Don Mancini delivers a brilliant sequel that goes unbound by the franchise’s continuity while paying appropriate fan service all the same. This is how you keep a series going, folks.
Twixt – As a writer, I connected with Twixt on a personal level. Francis Ford Coppola’s experimental style will undoubtedly be off-putting to some, although I implore everyone to give it a chance. Ostensibly, this is the story of a writer investigating a rash of small-town vampire killings, but Twixt is actually an ode to the creative process. The narrative shifts and changes at the whim of our resident writer (Val Kilmer), as he struggles to find the “perfect” flow and story for his upcoming book. It’s only fitting that Coppola wanted to “live edit” this on a roadshow circuit to match the film’s story, because that’s what Twixt is really about. Easily the most underlooked and underappreciated film of the year.
5. You’re Next – Give credit to writer Simon Barrett and director Adam Wingard for crafting a horror film that works as a rousing home invasion thriller and also a crackling black comedy. That’s never an easy thing to accomplish, more so because the two genres never butt heads along the way. This story of a family gathering interrupted by masked killers nails the passive-aggressive bickering of the family unit, while serving up memorable bits of slaughter and suspense along the way. The cast is uniformly excellent (with Joe Swanberg, A.J. Bowen, and Wendy Glenn being standouts) and you’ll never listen to the Dwight Twilley Band in the same way again (assuming you listened in the first place).
4. The Lords of Salem – After two Halloween debacles, it felt good to find myself back in Rob’s corner with this delirious mixture of Ken Russell and Jean Rollin. It’s the very definition of slow burn, and Zombie deserves credit for inching outside of his comfort zone (no degenerate characters or f-bomb barrages here). This story of a fairly normal woman besieged by disturbing visions and nightmares offers resonating visuals and authentic Salem atmosphere; it’s unlike anything else around right now and I applaud Zombie for making it. Not for all tastes, not even close, but it’s quite the trip for those willing to take it.
3. The Conjuring – James Wan has proven himself a master genre craftsman time and time again. He’s been making intense, scary and suspenseful movies for a decade now, and he applies every learned trick to The Conjuring, delivering an old-fashioned scare show that fires on all cylinders. My favorite Wan film may always be Death Sentence, but this is the movie that proved to audiences that you’re never too old to have the shit scared out of you.
2. Stoker – Hitchcockian horror at its finest, this is about the darkest corners of a family’s closet, where the past catches up to the present with devastating consequences. Chan-wook Park captures the madness with brazen style, so that nearly every shot is somehow a reflection of the character(s) in it, and his cast is pitch-perfect: Kidman as the damaged widow in desperate need of nurturing, Wasikowska as the teenager struggling to come into her own, and Goode as a murderous wolf in sheep’s clothing. This is confident psychological horror that soars.
1. Maniac – Proof that horror remakes don’t have to be a downer, Maniac is to be lauded for taking the 42nd Street appeal of the original and somehow creating an even nastier, sleazier experience. Elijah Wood is terrifically creepy, and the movie is smart enough to go the opposite way in its realization of a modernized Frank Zito. This isn’t the greasy slob of 1980; instead he’s a sheepish and unassuming young guy—you wouldn’t think twice if you passed him on the sidewalk, and that’s part of the disturbing point. Maniac is also relentlessly unsettling in its POV approach to the narrative, making us inhabit a psychopath’s mind and rendering us accomplices in his brutal killings. This movie is perhaps the gold standard for modern-day remakes, sitting comfortably alongside Cronenberg’s The Fly where brilliant reimaginings are concerned.
3. World War Z – I’m at a loss to understand the pass this was given in many circles. What’s the point of overblown spectacle when it doesn’t mean anything? This movie has a lot of setpieces, sure, but it’s all one-note nonsense. Zombies tackle people we don’t know and never care about, pile on one another to destroy cities all around the world, while Brad Pitt runs really fast to get away from them. In fact, Pitt stumbles through so much carnage without incident that it’s impossible to take any of this seriously. It also prevents this film from having any stakes. Yes, we see that the “world” is in dire straights, but that’s a great big shortcut in terms of making us care. If you’re going to put the fate of the world at stake, I still need to care about the people living in it. There’s so little attempt at characterization throughout World War Z that it’s the only movie I started to forget while I was watching it. When this came out, it was received with a whole lot of, ”Well, that wasn’t as bad as I thought” sentiment, with which I will agree. Because World War Z is actually much worse.
2. Carrie – I’d be willing to bet the studio crippled this piece of shit’s chances before director Kimberly Peirce had any say in it, forcing this to be more of a De Palma karaoke jam than it should’ve been. Peirce’s previous Boys Don’t Cry was an indication that she would be the perfect choice to tackle a gritty version of teenage torment and survival, but somewhere along the way this became less about returning to Stephen King’s source material and more about imitating what Brian De Palma had already perfected. Among its many mistakes is softening its titular character, reducing her monstrosity to that of PC anti-hero, a mistake that strips Carrie ‘13 of any edge that it might’ve had. This is no longer about her journey to full-blown monster because she has time to stop during the prom massacre and rescue the sympathetic gym teacher from grim death. It’s a gutless pile of trash, anchored by Julianne Moore’s embarrassing caricature of Piper Laurie. Abysmal stuff.
1. Dracula 3D – If my Dread colleagues do not also have this movie somewhere in their “worst” lists, it’s safe to assume they were smart and chose not to see it. Earlier this year I elaborated on my disgust in a fairly lengthy review, and I can’t stress those points enough: This is a truly miserable experience. Dario Argento is no longer interested in visual panache or inspired setpieces. And that would be fine if he were making character-driven films with good stories and/or performances, but there’s none of that here either. What Dracula 3D does offer is a bunch of uninspired moments dressed in cheap CGI and slathered in a truly ugly digital look. That this was shot by Luciano Tovoli (who also lensed Suspiria) is further evidence that the Italian film industry has become a smoldering pile of ruin—and that just makes this experience all the more depressing.
Scott “Doctor Gash” Hallam’s Picks
Time to close the books on 2013, but not before we give a nod to the top horror projects of the year. I say projects because horror on television is becoming just as exciting as what we get on the big screen. With honorable mentions going to shows like “Bates Motel” and “Hannibal,” Must-See TV isn’t as much about sitcoms and family values as it is about witches, zombies and blood-letting.
I’d also like to throw out an honorable mention to V/H/S/2, especially the absolutely psychotic death cult segment “Safe Haven” directed by Timo Tjahjanto and Gareth Evans. And no, it could not possibly have lived up to the hype generated by its uber-exciting trailer, but Evil Dead was a really fun time at the theater and also gets an HM nod. Ah yes, the fun, the laughs, the arterial spray…
Now on to the Top 5!
I’d be willing to listen to anyone’s argument that another horror film of 2013 was more impactful than the remake of William Lustig’s 1980 classic Maniac, but I don’t think you could convince me. Elijah Wood was the perfect baby-faced actor to play deranged serial killer Frank Zito. Who knew Frodo had such deep, dark places he could go to for his roles? With a fantastic story, incredible special F/X and great characters, Maniac was vicious. Wood, of course, dominates the screen, but Nora Arnezeder is critically important as Frank’s love interest, Anna. Slickly directed by Franck Khalfoun, with the entire film taking place from the killer’s point of view, Maniac is as unique as it is brutal. An outstanding score by one-named French composer Rob ties the whole thing together brilliantly.
I’ve been waiting for a full year to put American Mary on my top five list! Released very late last year, thus qualifying for 2013 consideration, American Mary oozes style. Jen and Sylvia Soska grabbed their sophomore effort by the throat and didn’t let go until they had a fantastic film. Audiences have fallen in love with not only American Mary but the highly marketable Soska sisters as well. The Twisted Twins nabbed Katharine Isabelle to play the deliciously devious Mary Mason, and the star brought viewers on a fantastic ride of pain, disillusionment, revenge and some of the craziest body modifications you’ve ever seen. Fantastic music also adds to the thick atmosphere in the movie. American Mary officially put the Soskas on the map, and with their next film, See No Evil 2, already in the can, these girls have the world by the surgically modified balls.
“The Walking Dead” and “American Horror Story: Coven”
When will fans realize that just when you start to doubt “The Walking Dead,” the show comes back and absolutely staggers you? 2013 not only saw the first showdown with The Governor at the end of Season 3, but also another tremendous effort in giving us his backstory and final stand in the first half of Season 4. And he did go out with a bang. Consistently one of the most compelling shows on television, “The Walking Dead” only continues to get better. And while we’re on the subject of great TV shows, “American Horror Story” is in the middle of proving once again why they are so strong. The regular outstanding ensemble cast has become even better with the addition of Kathy Bates and Angela Bassett, who could not be more perfect as Marie Laveau. This voodoo priestess is stealing the show. All we can say to these two television horror heavyweights is ‘More… please!’
“Holliston: Season 2”
Adam Green returned with his entire cast of characters for another season of the absolutely perfect show “Holliston.” Green, with Joe Lynch, Corri English, Laura Ortiz, Dee Snider and Oderus Urungus, came through with a second season that was even more hilariously entertaining than the first. The cast seemed more comfortable and the story really began to flesh out. Many of the audience’s favorite celebrity guest stars returned for another spot on the show as well, and Green managed to go out and get some new ones also including David Naughton for the werewolf episode and the unforgettable Bailey Madison, who starred in one of those episodes that really pushed the boundaries of good taste. Well done! We’re still waiting to hear if “Holliston” is returning for a third season, but if it does, you can almost guarantee you’ll see it right back on this list again next year, as Green and company are only getting better as the show rolls along. Market Basket.
The Seasoning House
Away from all the hoopla surrounding films like Evil Dead and World War Z, snuck in a little film from first-time director Paul Hyett called The Seasoning House. If brutality transferred directly to box office dollars, this one would have been the biggest money maker of the year. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case, so you have to dig a little deeper to find this gem. Set in the Balkans in 1996, The Seasoning House is the story of kidnapped girls forced into prostitution and addiction and made into playthings for the Serbian army. It’s a revenge story containing some special F/X that will leave you stunned and wondering how the hell they pulled off such incredibly realistic movie magic. Certainly not the feel good movie of the year, but a cinematic assault that will leave you breathless.
Texas Chainsaw 3D
You cannot be serious…
Texas Chainsaw 3D
I always felt the Sawyers were a sympathetic bunch. Poor, poor misunderstood people.
Texas Chainsaw 3D
Why didn’t she just read the note? Didn’t he make it clear enough that she should read the note?
Texas Chainsaw 3D
Do the math… Leatherface would have been over 60 years old, probably closer to 70! He did a nice job chugging around that carnival for someone collecting Social Security.
Staci Layne Wilson’s Picks
These lists are always difficult, given the fact that we as reviewers see movies at film festivals (which may or not ever be released), online screeners for VOD releases, and those going straight to disc. Therefore, in order to make this more relatable to the casual horror fan, I’ve narrowed my love and loathe lists down to USA theatrical releases only, ordered by date. (If I didn’t mention a movie, then that probably means it just didn’t move me one way or another.)
Warm Bodies (February 1)
Sure, it’s PG13 so don’t expect any Deadgirl gratuitous rapes or any cheeky “how about a little head?” jokes, a la Evil Dead 2 between the male and female leads here. But the flick’s got heart. Here’s the gist: R is a hoodie-wearing disaffected youth, affected by a zombie plague that’s swept the world and divided the undead from humankind. He’s fine just eating brains and listening to records on the hi-fi in his hipster bachelor pad – until he meets a warm-bodied mortal girl, Julie. It’s clichéd, but it’s also cute and charming, not to mention well-acted (Rob Corddry steals the show) and entertaining.
Stoker (March 1)
A sinister, suspenseful, tawdry and fun thriller, Stoker is the first English language film from Korean auteur Park Chan-Wook. “Stoker” is also the surname of its fictional family — played by Nicole Kidman as the sexy, icy mom; Mia Wasikowska as her secretive, misfit teenage daughter; and Matthew Goode as the mysterious, malevolent uncle — but Stoker has nothing at all to with Dracula novelist, Bram. It’s just another delightfully crimson red herring in a flick that’s full of them. The story has a very Tennessee Williams-meets-Alfred Hitchcock feel to it with Park’s hyper-stylized sensibility. It’s oozing with spider webs of dread and tension, punctuated with the occasional splat of horror.
Antiviral (April 2013)
“Long live the new flesh!” The son of body-horror king David Cronenberg, Brandon Cronenberg may seem like a clone born of a test tube with his directorial debut, Antiviral. But the younger Cronenberg adds yet another dimension to the family legacy in a truly striking and unforgettable instant classic, with a keen aesthetic eye and the ability to coax intense yet subtle performances.
Evil Dead (April 12)
Employing practical effects (only occasionally augmented with CGI enhancement), the supernatural murder and mayhem offers something truly garish and gruesome to behold… not since The Shining’s elevator scene have I seen so much blood (in fact, the forest even rains red at one point). Bodies – living, possessed, and dead – are violated in all sorts of ways, ranging from tree limbs to chainsaws to nail guns to fireplace pokers and even an electric carving knife. Not a single punch is pulled. And yet, while visually more violent and destructive than, say, a Saw or a Hostel movie, Evil Dead feels less skeevy. It’s not an exploitation film; it’s old-school horror.
Maniac (June 21)
The story isn’t much. And the structure is not much different from the 1980 original. It’s about a socially awkward, artistic misfit with OCD who somehow manages to kill with impunity but without detection as his reeking abode collects flies by the gross. As in the original, our Maniac (Elijah Wood) meets an attractive, fresh-faced female photographer and becomes obsessed with her. What elevates Maniac from being just another sickening slasher are technique, style, pacing and mood. It’s certainly one of the best “serious” horror movies I’ve seen in quite some time, elegantly and carefully crafted from start to finish. It is not for everyone, as it is arty and outré – a bloodthirsty and beautiful curio with a standout soundtrack and mannequins that menace to creepy perfection.
The Conjuring (July 19)
The Conjuring is based upon the real life supernatural crime case of Ed and Lorraine Warren, founders of New England Center for Psychic Research (est. 1952). It’s set in the early 1970s, before the Warrens became famous for their work in regard to The Amityville Horror. With a feel reminiscent of director James Wan’s previous haunted hit, Insidious – and a touch of “American Horror Story” Season One – The Conjuring covers the chain of terrifying events which plagued the Perron family from the moment they moved into a fixer-upper farmhouse. Wan pulls no punches, even when it comes to the jump scares, and delivers on all the promise he showed in his earlier, almost-there devil-doll horror film Dead Silence.
Horror movies I liked:
The Lords of Salem, We Are What We Are, Carrie, You’re Next, The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears, The Curse of Chucky
Genre movies I loved:
Blue Ruin, Side Effects, Only God Forgives, The Wall (German), Blancanieves (Spanish), Pacific Rim
Mama (January 2013)
I have no idea why Mama was marketed as a “modest” thriller, propaganda stating it employed the “less is more” approach. I saw the full-on ghost, from head-to-toe and even in extreme, unflinching close-up, time and time again, throughout the film. The ghost ain’t shy, that’s for sure.
Scary Movie 5 (April 11)
Black Swan and 127 Hours are sent up along with the usual traditional horror flicks a la Paranormal Activity and Sinister. The only thing really scary, or funny, about Scary Movie is the idea there’s going to be a Scary Movie 6.
Black Rock (May 17)
A wannabe distaff Deliverance, this talky, bitchy hipster vanity project from writer-director-star Katie Aselton falls flat at every turn.
The Purge (June 7)
Intriguing concept: In a futuristic society, for one night a year, murder may be committed without consequences of any kind. This should bring up all kinds of possible moral and legal questions and conversations, but apparently the filmmakers didn’t care about delving into the speculative possibilities. Instead, they chose to make a big, dumb home invasion horror.
Oldboy (November 24)
Oldboy is a remake of the well regarded Korean revenge thriller directed by Park Chan-Wook (which, in turn, was based on a Japanese manga). Unintentionally funny, overwrought and turgid, everything is lost in translation.
Horror movies I didn’t like:
World War Z, Byzantium, Come Out & Play, The Green Inferno
Did not see:
Texas Chainsaw 3D, Hell Baby, V/H/S/2, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, The Is the End, The World’s End, American Mary, The Monkey’s Paw
Uncle Creepy’s Picks
It’s been a strange year for movies. More specifically, the first half of the year was pretty good, but man, did 2013 end on a whimper for horror entertainment. Especially in theatres. That being said, here are my best and worst picks for 2013 in no particular order…
Warm Bodies. Believe me, I’m just as shocked as you are that this one is on my list. In fact, it has just about everything that I normally hate in horror movies in spades – CG zombies, comedy, romance, etc. Yet, this film rises way above others that try to pull off what it does so perfectly well… and that’s deliver a truly fun and engaging experience by perfectly blending the best of everything flawlessly. Warm Bodies was one of the best times I’ve had at the movies all year.
Evil Dead. Yep, here’s another one that shouldn’t have worked at all. Yet, again, odds were defied, and this time gallons and gallons and gallons of grue were spilled in the process. Evil Dead works because it never tries to out Evil Dead Sam Raimi’s original classic. Instead it glorifies it while bringing something fresh to the table to chew on. It’s good to know that one of the most popular franchises in genre history is in such good and capable hands.
V/H/S/2. Consider this my third surprise of the year. Having not been a huge fan of the first film (mainly I liked the opening segment and the closing segment), I went into this one expecting nothing. Given the talent involved this go-around, who could possibly resist? V/H/S/2 isn’t just one of the best movies this year; it also happens to be one of the best horror anthologies period.
Maniac. Would it be ridiculous or redundant of me to say that this was another big surprise? Let me be blunt… I LOVE William Lustig’s grimy NYC-based original movie, and when word broke that the remake would be told mainly from the first-person perspective and starring Mr. Fucking Frodo, I was all but ready to write it off. I have never been so happy to be so wrong. Maniac is a true horror film in every sense of the word. The first-person technique sucks you into the mind of the killer, making you feel like you’re there as these horrific murders are being committed. Elijah Wood knocked it out of the park, and he had some pretty damned big shoes to fill. By the time Maniac ended, I felt as If I needed a shower. That’s about as high of a compliment I could possibly give a movie.
The Conjuring. No surprise here at all. If there’s one thing I’m a complete sucker for, it’s a good haunted house story; and with this entry into the subgenre, James Wan delivered a true masterpiece of paranormal chills while expertly riding the line between reality and farfetched with a truly deft hand. The Conjuring could very well be the most frightening ghost story of the last ten years. This is nothing short of an absolute knock-out blow. One that will be talked about for years to come.
Honorable Mentions: Pacific Rim, Dredd, The Curse of Chucky, You’re Next, Frankenstein’s Army, “Sleepy Hollow”
The Purge. Hey! Let’s take a great premise and then flush it down the toilet in favor of a cookie-cutter home invasion flick! That’s Hollywood genius at its finest, folks! Look no further than this for the biggest missed opportunity of the year. Absolute crap.
The Lords of Salem. Zzz…. Sheri Moon’s ass…. zzzz… recycled imagery… celebrity cameos that go nowhere… zzzzz… Sheri Moon’s ass again… trying hard to emulate better films… zzzz… Sheri Moon’s ass once more… Someone tell Meg Foster to put some clothes on… zzz… Ken Foree’s wig… zzz… everyone must be filthy looking and in need of a haircut… zzz… Sheri Moo… aw fuck it.
The Last Exorcism Part II. Just like with Paranormal Activity 4 the year before, the geniuses behind this snooze-fest decided that it’d be best to release a movie that completely ignores everything that made the first film in this no-need-to-be-a-franchise good. Only this time they also sprinkled in long stretches of nothing happening, leading to absolute boredom. Nell didn’t even contort, and I’m sorry, but the floating semi-masturbation scene doesn’t even remotely count. Just when this one finally builds a little bit of momentum, the credits roll two minutes later. Not kidding either. Two friggin’ minutes.
“Dexter” Season 8. No, it’s not a movie, but this last season of “Dexter” left me so profoundly disappointed that it still irritates me to no end. When you think about what could have happened… the possibilities… what did we get? Angel agonizing over who will be promoted, Masuka all of a sudden with a daughter, and a conclusion for Dexter himself that’s so agonizingly stupid that I’d like to punch each of the writers in their faces incessantly until my own dark passenger is quelled. Then of course I’ll fake my own death to avoid any repercussions and live out the rest of my days as a hermit lumberjack. If only for spite.
Sadako 3D. Every entry in the Ring franchise, even that horrid American Ring Two, possessed something about it that made it at the very least watchable. Yet, Sadako 3D perfectly illustrates how easily the mighty can fall when half-baked and completely clueless ideas are thrown into the mix as a means to make a quick buck. Nothing about this flick works. Not even the ludicrous Sadako-Spider crescendo can put this one over in a so bad it’s good kind of way. This, my friends, is cinematic shit. I never in my life ever thought that I would find myself longing for the days of jump scares orchestrated by a CGI deer.
Dishonorable Mentions: Texas Chainsaw 3D, No One Lives, I Spit On Your Grave 2