Icons Of Fright presents Robg’s TOP 10 Horror Movies of 2011!
Welcome back, fiends! We’re reached yet the end of another year and as always, it’s time to look back and discuss the best stuff that’s come and gone, look over some titles you might have missed and just reflect on what our beloved horror genre had to offer this year. I will say right off the bat that scanning over the titles I picked for my TOP 10, the TOP 6 are what I’d personally consider legitimate great genre offerings whereas picks 7 through 10 were serviceable horror movies that I didn’t love, but that entertained me tremendously and I’ll explain why I consider them serviceable when I get to them.
That said, I missed some great stuff that people have been talking about when compiling their lists. I have yet to see the much-praised horror/comedy Tucker & Dale Vs Evil which just hit DVD/Blu-Ray. Also haven’t had a chance to check out the Korean “slasher” flick Dream Home, although it’s now top priority and will happen shortly thanks to Netflix Instant. Looking forward to Lucky McKee’s The Woman, as well as Troll Hunter, The Clinic, Little Deaths and Pedro Almodovar’s The Skin I Live In. There are a few titles that are due out next year that I caught at early screenings, film festivals, etc. but I’ll save those for the very end.
So starting from best and right on down, here we go!
1. I SAW THE DEVIL
I’ve been watching a lot of Asian cinema this past year and in particular Korean stuff, and nobody does a vengeance story better than the Koreans. This one in particular is one of the most brutal, emotionally complex and down right nastiest of the bunch. If you were to combine of all the crazy shit you’ve seen in Chan Wook-Park’s “Vengeance” trilogy, that’d be about on par with the level of revenge & violence you’ll be getting when sitting down with I Saw The Devil. Oldboy‘s Min-sik Choi is the serial killer in this flick who’s latest victim is the (pregnant) fiance of a secret agent. When the body turns up, the agent sets upon a very precise plan to unleash unholy hell on the killer. And while it’s rightfully deserved, the film shows the severe (and I mean severe) consequences of vengeance. A must-see especially for horror fans that love foreign cinema.
Here at Icons we have a special place in our hearts for writer/director Stevan Mena’s debut feature Malevolence. After all, it was one of the first independent films that we truly championed back in our early days on the web (all the way back in 2004!). So the prospect of seeing a prequel to the story of serial killer Martin Bristol was something we had anticipated for years and finally, Mena delivered in full in 2011. Once again, this is a truly harsh film, and while I can see it easily falling into the “torture porn” label for it’s moments of sheer, horrific violence, I feel under the skillful hands of Mena, it’s all handled with extreme care and grace. This is quite frankly what I wished the Halloween remake was. A legitimate explanation to the slow descent of a little boy into a vicious killer. You can read my extensive review of Bereavement on the Amoeba website right HERE. Stick around after the credits for a cool little tease specifically for Malevolence fans!
3. STAKE LAND
Anytime a flick comes courtesy of Glass Eye Pix, I know I can at the very least expect something unique and not typically “genre”. Add to that that I was already a fan of filmmaker Jim Mickle’s after his impressive debut feature Mulberry Street and I was already in line for Stake Land. While I expected the natural step up in craft from his first film to his second, it seemed like Mickle jumped 10 steps up with Stake Land, a really cool post apocalyptic road movie in which vampires were what wiped out mankind. Part I Am Legend and Road Warrior (among some of the survivors are religious cannibals!), I really loved the world they created for Stake Land; the idea of pulled vampire fangs being currency at town pubs, and also the idea of following the story through the perspective of the boy. Add an impressive turn from actor/co-writer Nick Damici (encoring from Mulberry Street), a welcome return from Kelly McGillis and a really good performance from genre fave Danielle Harris, not to mention scary, vicious, creature-like vampires, and that adds up to one of the years most original and best!
Icons has always been fans of the work of James Wan and Leigh Whannell, so it was great to have them come back to the horror genre in a way that was a complete 180 from Saw, but not too far off from their underrated Dead Silence. There’s nothing mind-blowingly new in Insidious, a loving homage to ghost flicks like Poltergeist, but sometimes what’s old is new again, especially when it’s done as well as it is here. And it seems like audiences around the world seemed to agree! Instead of the haunted house angle, we’ve got the haunted kid, and by Crom, the movie’s scary! Even with the PG-13 rating. Pair those bits up with a really incredible cast – Patrick Wilson (that dude rules), Rose Byrne (gorgeous!), Barbara Hershey (from The Entity?!) and the always wonderful Lin Shaye and you’ve got a crowd pleaser. Also, kudos to Joseph Bishara, both for his tremendously eerie score, as well as his performance as the film’s main demon!
5. A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE
I love nothing more than character driven horror films. Or better yet, drama’s with horror elements, something that should be a sub-genre onto itself, so I was fully prepared to take this dark journey with director Adam Wingard for A Horrible Way To Die, the story of an escaped serial killer Garrick Turrell (AJ Bowen) on his way to track down his former girlfriend Sarah (Amy Seimetz) who was responsible for his incarceration. And what sets the movie apart from most genre fare is the acting from all three principles (rounded out by Joe Swanberg). Think an artsier version of something like Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer and you’re in the realm of AHWTD. And the parallel of addiction between the two former lovers (alcohol for Sarah, killing for Garrick) make this unlike anything we’ve ever seen in the genre before. Some may find the ‘fly-on-the-wall’ shaky cam stylistic choice of the way the story is told jarring at first, but it totally fits the (drunken) state of mind of the characters and hence works.
6. THE LAST CIRCUS
Holy crap! I had never been familiar with the work of Alex de la Iglesia prior to seeing The Last Circus, a film that came highly recommended by friends and now I’m forever changed by this bizarre little oddity. While it’s got horror elements, it quite frankly goes beyond that. Opening with the Spanish Civil War in the late 30’s and then continuing shortly thereafter, Javior (Carlos Areces) is the circus’ new “sad clown” who’s in love with Natalia (Carolina Bang), the acrobat. She however is the property of the very abusive Sergio (Antonio de la Torre), the “happy clown”, and hence a crazy love triangle unlike any other ensues. To tell you anymore would ruin the “what the fuck am I watching?!” nature of the film. Just check this one out!
7. FRIGHT NIGHT
I love the original 1985 Fright Night. It’s in my top 5 vampire movies of all time, so when I went into the remake, I initially had a really tough time watching it objectively and on it’s own merits because I found myself constantly looking for the differences from the original and I paid too close attention to how each character was handled in this adaption. When it veered into its own original territory (which is primarily the third act), I found myself letting go and just having fun with it. But my first viewing was very critical. That said, I was recently discussing the two movies with a co-worker whom had never seen the original Fright Night, and for every point I made, he intelligently countered it with why that wouldn’t work today. For example, I always loved that Chris Sarandon’s take was this vicious yet suave killer, but he also had this great love backstory with the Amy character. Colin Farrell (whom I like quite a bit as an actor) was simply (as they even say in the movie) “the shark from Jaws”, a predator. My co-worker pointed out, “well, yeah, I don’t want to see a romantic vampire nowadays. Twilight ruined all that. I want him to be a vicious killer.” Fair enough. So when I revisited it on Blu-Ray, I was able to just watch it as its own movie, and despite a few too many conveniences early on in the film, I rather enjoyed it, especially when compared to the usual studio horror stuff we’re giving. Is it a great remake? No. Is it a fun, cool vampire movie? Sure. So while I don’t consider this great, I enjoyed it immensely on repeat viewings.
8. THE THING
Once again, this can’t possibly hold a candle to John Carpenter’s already perfect remake of The Thing From Another World. But I still kind of dug it. If anything, because it only makes Carpenter’s film stand out as the superior, stronger story; the story and characters I want to get to already! Doubling as a prequel and semi-remake of the original, the first 2 acts of The Thing set-up some really nice visual details that tie directly into Carpenter’s. It’s the 3rd act that reeks of studio interference and compromise. I find it hard to believe that with the level of detail put into the first half that the filmmakers intended the final film to turn out the way it did. It’s not perfect, but it’s serviceable. And I gotta admit, it was really, really awesome to immediately watch John Carpenter’s flick right after leaving the theater on this one and seeing it literally pick right up where the new one left off. I recommend this as a double feature with the original.
9. THE REEF
It’s rare to find a killer shark movie that’s decent. Hell, Jaws set the bar pretty darned high and no one’s come even remotely close to that, not even the Jaws sequels. (Although I do love the second Jaws movie.) However, my boss recommended this Australian low budget indie to me and I rather enjoyed it. You won’t find bad CGI sharks in this one, but it offers a very tense take on the “trapped at sea & surrounded by sharks” dilemma. And the somewhat bleak ending really struck a chord with me. This is the movie I wished Open Water was. But now we have The Reef, so that’s even better!
10. FINAL DESTINATION 5
To me, usually a franchise starts to lesson in quality by around Part 3. So I like to completely disregard the unwatchable Final Destination‘s 3 and 4 and pretend that this is the third entry in the series. Not as good as the first two, but fun enough to keep the franchise alive! The bridge disaster at the beginning is definitely the best since that untoppable highway crash in Part 2. And the inventive deaths of these very unlikely characters only adds to the fun. Wish they’d taken the “kill or be killed” angle a bit sooner, both in the franchise and in this movie, but if they ever get around to another sequel, maybe they can explore that then. It was also nice to have genre veteran Tony Todd back in what seemed like the most screen time he’s gotten in one of these. By now I’m sure you’ve heard about the twist ending. Obviously, I won’t spoil that here, but I think it’s what truly elevates this sequel beyond the previous entries.
HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN
This plays like the best made Troma film you could possibly find, complete with sleazy, despicable , over-the-top villains, juxtaposed with Rutger Hauer’s incredible serious-as-hell straight-forward performance. Seriously, who would’ve thought that he’d be this damn great in a movie called Hobo With A Shotgun? With that title, you know exactly what you’re getting into. So if “cult cinema” is one of your guilty pleasures, this one delivers in spades.
2012 Early Buzz:
I’ve already seen Ti West’s THE INNKEEPERS, which gets a VOD release next week and a theatrical release early in 2012 and had it come out this year, it would’ve been my favorite horror film of the year. Taking everything he applied in The House Of The Devil and perfecting it, The Innkeepers is not only West’s best film to date, but a genuinely funny, creepy and thoroughly entertaining genre flick. Definitely check this one out!
Caught Anthony DiBlasi’s latest flick CASSADEGA at a film festival in October and absolutely loved it. Very unique, well acted and terrifically directed, this movie is a huge step up from Dread (one of the best Clive Barker adaptations) and solidifies DiBlasi as a filmmaker in the genre to keep your eyes on! Also of note, Padraig Reynold’s RITES OF SPRING, a wonderful homage to 80’s “slasher” flicks that reunites The Signal leads Annessa Ramsey and AJ Bowen. Darren Lynn Bousman’s MOTHER’S DAY finally arrives via Anchor Bay Entertainment next year, and while I was ambivelant upon my feelings towards the film in my original review (right HERE), I’m looking forward to revisiting this for the incredible acting from everyone involved. One I haven’t seen yet but is at the top of my most-anticipated list is YOU’RE NEXT, the follow up feature from the gang that delivered A Horrible Way To Die. Described as a The Strangers meets Home Alone, Lionsgate will release this come Halloween time in 2012!
Those were my picks! Sign off on some of yours in the comments below! -Robg.