It has been a interesting year for horror/sci-fi films this year. In my opinion, it’s been something of a down year for genre films. There have been some really good films released this year but by & large I think the bad ones far outweighed the good ones. I even scrambled to watch “The Orphan Killer” & “The Woman” in the last few days because of all the positive press both had received & I wanted to give them a fair shake to see if either one would make my list (Neither did). Now if I wanted to make a list of the worst films of the year this column might run 8-10 pages. But I don’t roll like that…although I will mention what I thought were the three worst films I’ve seen this year. Actually that’s kind of hard too, there were so many to choose from!
Before I begin I’d like to mention that the best film I’ve seen this year was Martin Scorcese’s “Hugo”. It’s not a horror film so I’m not including it on this list although it is a fantasy film in a way. An absolute delight to watch & a heartfelt love letter to all of us who enjoy going to the movies. Sadly, it pretty much bombed at the box office but it will be around come Oscar time for sure. It should be seen by everyone who’s ever dreamed of making a movie, I’m pretty sure that’s most of us. Go see it if you have a chance & see it in 3D as it uses 3D better than any film that’s used the process before. Now…off to the races with number 10! (Directors are in parenthesis after titles).
10/ “Melancholia” (Lars Von Trier)
I know…I know. More of a drama than an outright horror film. But I ask, when is the impending destruction of our planet anything less than horrible? The fact that the audience is really paying attention to the story of Justine (Kirsten Dunst) & her slow breakdown doesn’t change the fact that the planet dubbed “Melancholia” is headed directly toward Earth in the background. There is an air of doom & dismay throughout this film that seeped into my pores after a little while & really unnerved me as it grew closer to it’s finale. What’s even scarier is that Dunst showed she has some acting chops! In the end what Von Trier does with this movie is prove that no matter what we as a race accomplish, we’re still fairly insignificant in the big picture & we have absolutely no control over our fate. That dear acolytes…is scary.
9/ “More Brains!: A Return To The Living Dead” (Bill Philputt)
This was most unexpected. A documentary about the making of the 80’s classic “Return Of The Living Dead” didn’t sound all that exciting to me, I was wrong! Philputt managed to get nearly everyone who had anything to do with the movie and got some amazing stories out of all of them. All of the principal actors (Sans Mark “Suicide” Venturini who sadly passed away) have some great anecdotes regarding their time at the Oneeda Medical Supply building & every story they tell made me appreciate the film that much more. Narrator Brian “Scuz” Peck is both jovial & annoying at the same time, is that even possible? And actress Jewel “Casey” Shepard really stands out simply because she seems to be mentioned by all involved as something of a pain on the set & she takes her lumps (while dishing some out) admirably. When it was over I watched “ROTLD” and felt like it was the first time I had seen it again…how f*cking cool is that?
8/ “Drive Angry” (Patrick Lussier)
I know I’m going to get a lot of flack for this choice but it’s my list not yours…back up! The hundred or so minutes I spent watching this movie on the big screen were some of the best minutes I’ve spent in a theater this year. Featuring everything The Black Saint wants in a movie: Nudity, Blood, Gore, Sex, Big Fucking Guns, Satanic Worship, Car Chases & explosions…did I mention nudity? And it stars Nicholas Cage (who seems to be having a ball) in it for Christ’s sake! How could it go wrong? It didn’t, but because of one of the worst promotional campaigns I’ve ever seen….very few people saw it. The ad’s (Both commercial & print) didn’t even try to tell what the film was really about which just chafed my ass because this movie was nothing but awesome! The script is ridiculous but I wasn’t looking for “Citizen Kane”, what I was looking for was a kick ass time at the movies & this delivered in spades! One of the great cinematic injustices of the year is that not enough people went to see this in a theater…in 3D(I neglected to mention that little tidbit earlier)! A near perfect homage to 70’s grindhouse cinema. See it!
7/ “The Thing” (Matthijs van Heijningen Jr)
Heresy! How dare anyone even attempt to remake John Carpenter’s classic film of the 80’s? Too bad a lot of people didn’t realize that this wasn’t a remake but a prequel to Carpenter’s shocker. I suppose calling it “The Thing” didn’t help too much in that regard. But if the outraged masses took a little time to actually check it out they would’ve found a nice little thriller telling the story of the Norwegian research crew that actually removed the titular beastie from the hostile Antarctic ice & their (ultimately futile) attempts to destroy it. It takes pains to tie into Carpenter’s film as much as possible which is commendable and while it cannot match JC’s film for it’s sense of unease & paranoia, it does make a fairly good go at it. It also suffers some because of the decision to portray the creature using CGI rather than practical efx as it’s sequel did but there are some practical efx strewn about & the creature design was very “Lovecraft-ian” and effectively eerie in it’s execution. But as it’s sequel did some 30+ years ago, this film flopped as well. It will find an audience on home video just as Carpenter’s did and while it will never equal the brilliance of that film, it’s good enough for me to include it on this list.
6/ “Stakeland” (Jim Mickle)
The most ferocious vampire movie I’ve seen in a good while. The film looks at the Earth following an apocalypse, an apocalypse caused by vampires. It is dripping with atmosphere so thick you could cut it with a knife and the performances seem to be propelled by the bleakness of the production. Everyone just seems so defeated when the film begins, it’s profoundly upsetting & even hard to watch at certain points. Nick Damici (“Mister”) looks like he’s visited hell more than a few times BEFORE the fangs started flying and he carries a certain gravitas that is both sad & scary at the same time. I actually cared for all of the characters in this movie & that’s not something I expected from it. It’s a gritty, hard hitting film that garnered some well deserved acclaim. If you are serious about your horror film collection, you should own this one.
5/ “Hobo With A Shotgun” (Jason Eisener)
One of the most over the top movies of the year, “HWAS” tells the tale of….a hobo with a shotgun! The simple tale of a hobo (Rutger Hauer) who just wants to start a lawn mowing business to better his lot in life & the crime lord who owns the city where our poor hobo ends up. This film strives to offend someone every three minutes or so and largely succeeds! Director Eisener has done his research & has crafted a film that echoes the films that used to play in bijou’s on 42nd street in the 70’s. Every frame of this movie drips with sleaze and I loved it! Rutger Hauer has creases deep enough to ride a bike through all over his face & they help to humanize his character. He looks weathered & beaten at the outset and as the film continues he just looks more & more downtrodden. But, he doesn’t take much crap either and when he gets that shotgun….HOO BOY! The fake blood budget had to be astronomical because there is hardly a moment where it isn’t being flung at the screen! Boobs, body parts & blood, what could be wrong with this combination? A very cool movie and for lovers of exploitation films? Manna from heaven…
4/ “Tucker And Dale Vs. Evil” (Eli Craig)
Probably the funniest horror film I’ve ever seen, “TADVE” tells the story of two lifelong friends (Alan Tudyk & Tyler Labine) who have just arrived at their new vacation home in the middle of the woods. Never mind that the place is nothing but a run down shack in the middle of nowhere, for them it’s the Taj Mahal. You see, the boys are basically your garden variety hillbilly and all they’ve known is pretty run down & beat up. But througfh the hard times they’ve always had each other and that’s what makes this film special. The relationship the two share is one of genuine care & as essayed by Tudyk & Labine, believable. Unfortunately, some college types are camping nearby & they automatically assume the worst when they first see our boys and it goes hilariously downhill from there. There are so many nods to classic horror films stuffed in here that it needs to be seen a few times to fully appreciate how brilliantly they’ve been woven into the story. And just because it’s a comedy doesn’t mean that it skimps out on the blood, there is more than enough grue & gore to satisfy the horror aficionado. It’s a brilliant pastiche of gore, grue & guffaws!
3/ “Human Centipede 2: Full Sequence” (Tom Six)
I found “Human Centipede: First Sequence” to be the blackest comedy I’ve seen in years despite it’s insistence that it was a horror film. Dieter Laser’s performance in it was one for the ages in my opinion. I could not fathom what a sequel might bring to the table to make it stand out. I mean you see one Human Centipede you’ve seen them all right? Imagine my surprise when I sat down to watch this film and was presented with something that I can only describe as the result of David’s Lynch & Cronenberg joining to make a reality show where the camera follows some poor sap and his family during their day to day existence. The sap in question? His name is Martin & Martin happens to be a fan of “The Human Centipede”, he watches it incessantly. He’s such a fan that he decides to create his own centipede, never mind the fact that he works as a garage attendant & has no medical background whatsoever.
The character of Martin as played by Laurence R. Harvey is one of the disturbing looking characters I’ve ever seen. Short & squat with a grotesquely swollen belly, he is profoundly hard to watch. As we get to know more of Martin and his life we find that he is mentally disturbed & receives no love from anyone surrounding him. His mother wants to kill him, his therapist wants to f*ck him and he has only his dream of creating his own human centipede to feed off of. The idea of making the sequel something that takes place in the real world, where the original film is something that can be bought in a store, is genius. It makes Martin one of us…a fan of the original. Rather than bring Dr. Heiter back from the dead in some silly way and have him continue his experiments director Tom Six creates a sort of “Meta” movie. Something that’s actually taking place and that’s where the horror lies because all of a sudden you realize that there might actually be somebody like Martin. Someone who might be planning to create their own centipede. Psychotic killers who keep coming back to life no matter how many bullets are pumped into them? That ain’t happening. But this? It COULD happen. The film is shot in black and white which actually enhances the scuzziness of it all and there is not a single person to root for in it either. I pitied Martin but that’s all the film allowed me to do. It even goes so far as to introduce one of the actresses from the first film as herself, lured by Martin with the promise of a meeting with Quentin Tarantino she only ends up as one of Martin’s victims. A truly inspired work and a real surprise considering the expectations most had of what it would be about.
2/ “I Saw The Devil” (Jee-woon Kim)
One of the most shocking films I’ve seen this year. “I Saw The Devil” tells the story of a man seeking revenge for his fiancee’s brutal murder & the lengths he will go to enact his revenge. Once again, this is a film that doesn’t try to put a supernatural spin on it’s events. Everything that takes place in it is plausible & that’s what makes it horrific….it’s plausibility. Actors Min-Sik Choi & Byung-hun Lee are outstanding in their respective roles as psychotic murderer & a man who’s growing more and more psychotic each and every day. It effectively blurs the line between just enough & too much and manages to disturb it’s audience even more when they realize that maybe the real psycho is the man seeking revenge. Maybe, just maybe…we are capable of the atrocities the “Hero” unleashes on his victim. The fact that this thought even entered my head while watching this film disturbed me. The violence is some of the most wince inducing carnage I’ve seen this year and it is sudden, without warning or mercy. The bravura “Taxicab” scene is evidence of this and once seen, cannot be forgotten. It’s only true flaw is it’s running time which could have been shortened by 20 minutes or so. But make no mistake, “I Saw The Devil” is a most apt title for this film. See it & you’ll know what I mean…
1/ “Insidious” (James Wan)
In a perfect world (Or in a column for another type of film) “Hugo” would be sitting here at number one. But as far as horror films go I found “Insidious” to be the one film I saw this year that legitimately frightened me. A modern take on “Poltergeist“, it tells the story of a young boy who has the power of astral projection but has no idea how to control it. Because of this he eventually “Projects” himself into a netherworld (Called “The Further”. I love that name)! He falls into a coma and while he is stuck in there…denizens of “The Further” are looking to get out. They manifest themselves in various ways, the most frightening one looks like a combination of Darth Maul & the creature from a film called “The Incubus”(1982). It provoked sincere screams & scares from the audiences I watched it with (I saw it a few times during it’s theatrical run) and never gave the audience to relax once it began. It’s another film that demands repeat viewings since it’s chock full of references to other films & little things that you just won’t notice on your first look. A truly scary film, “Insidious” was a smash hit and sadly a sequel is in the works. I say sadly because it’s just about perfect as it is. No sequel is necessary.
Honorable mentions go to “Attack The Block“, “Troll Hunter“, “Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes“, “Paranormal Activity 3“, “Chillerama“, Kidnapped” & “Super 8“. All admirable films that deserve recognition. As to the worst films of the year, I really don’t want revisit any of the turds that I’ve had to suffer through this year (“Paranoid Activity 2” I’m talking to you) but I will make note of the worst film I’ve seen this year which was “Transformers: Dark Of The Moon“. Director Michael Bay’s third entry of the franchise, it is everything a summer blockbuster should be and that is what damns it. All of the bombast it put on the screen meant nothing because it has no soul. It was a loud, annoying, repetitive bowel movement of a movie that assumes that the public would be satisfied with giant toys beating each other up as a bunch of actors (who should have known better) ran about, seemingly as indestructible as the robots are since they emerge from all the destruction with a few scratches & nothing more. Sadly, it was an enormous worldwide hit so I guess the studios assumptions about the public were correct. But there are a few of us who will stand up and tell the truth about films such as this one. “Insidious” cost somewhere between $750,000-$1,000,000 and was one hundred times more entertaining than “Transformers: Dark Of The Moon” which had 200 times that budget. What a sad statement that is…