It’s always exciting when we reach December of every year and look back at how the horror genre has evolved over the course of the last 12 months; what new things were done, which films were the most surprising to discover, what old stories were retold and did they stand up against their earlier counterparts? It’s just a fun time to see what flicks other horror fans & peers truly embraced this year & maybe recommend something unique and original that may have slipped through the cracks for whatever reason. 2013 was actually a pretty darned good year for the genre! I had no problem pulling together 10 titles. In fact, I have a handful of notable mentions; horror films I didn’t love but that I thought were really, really good and it’s a rarity to have this many to choose from. Granted, I sadly didn’t get a chance to see everything that came out this year. I missed ‘INSIDIOUS CHAPTER 2,’ which judging from the way friends described it to me sounded like my kind of bat-shit crazy. Same goes for Jim Mickle’s latest, ‘WE ARE WHAT WE ARE,’ a remake of the 2010 Spanish film of the same name. Otherwise, I’m glad to have kept pretty consistent in terms of catching most genre offerings, big and small. And although I saw some amazing films at festivals this year, I’m keeping it to things that were released in the year of 2013, because I think it’s fair that you should be able find all of these selections. I’ll include some of what to look forward to at the end of this article. So with that said, let’s count ’em down backwards starting from number 10 all the way down to my number 1 choice of the year. Here we go!
10 – YOU’RE NEXT
Ah, the film that made it’s festival debut back in 2011 and was my most anticipated of 2012 finally saw a summer release courtesy of Lionsgate this past August. Early word pegged this as kind of a ‘THE STRANGERS’ meets ‘HOME ALONE’ hybrid. And while I tend to not normally like home invasion horror (it’s one of my own personal fears & I find it rather unpleasant), the premise of this one sounded like a lot of fun. Plus, it was an encore of sorts from the filmmaking team behind ‘A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE,’ one of my faves from 2011. So did it live up to the hype? Yes and no. Yes, I enjoyed it tremendously and thought it had a great dark comedic tone to it. Kind of like a version of ‘CLUE’ but as a home invasion horror movie. And while it’s always great to see AJ Bowen & Joe Swanberg together (Swanberg in particular has some of the film’s funniest lines), as well as a welcome genre return for scream queen royalty Barbara Crampton, it’s newcomer Sharni Vinson who steals the show as one of the most worthwhile “final girls” the genre has seen in the last decade. I didn’t think this one was a game-changer for the genre, but it was really, really good. If you missed it in theaters (and sadly a lot of you did), you can finally catch up with this gem on January 14th when it’s released digitally and to home video. (TRAILER)
9 – ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE
Finally! After sitting on a shelf for 7 years, Jonathan Levine’s directorial debut (also Amber Heard’s first feature performance) has made it’s way to Blu-Ray and digital here in the States! Best bet is to go into this movie blindly and without any knowledge of what to expect. It’s sort of a modern John Hughes movie that turns into a “slasher” & there’s a handful of truly interesting surprising twists along the way. The title says it all, all the boys are kind of in love with the ugly duckling that blossomed into Mandy Lane and have invited her to join for a weekend out at a private ranch in the country for some good ol’ fashioned teenage partying. And that’s really as much as you should know about this on, trust me. It’s also interesting to look at this with fresh eyes knowing that this was the first film from the director of ‘THE WACKNESS,’ ’50/50′ and this year’s big hit ‘WARM BODIES,’ another film I rather enjoyed more than I thought I would. Levine offers a brand new commentary track on the Blu-Ray release and it’s fun to revisit the film with him as this was the first film for a lot of the people involved, including actor Anson Mount who went on to have a huge television career. Not great, but man was this really, really good and a refreshingly pleasant and welcome surprise.
8 – BAD MILO!
Those of you that know me know that I love nothing more than a good horror/comedy! EVIL DEAD 2, DEAD ALIVE, FEAST… these are among my personal faves. Then there’s just bizarre stuff along the lines of the BASKET CASE and IT’S ALIVE franchise. So I was already sold on BAD MILO, a flick from the Duplass Brothers crew, as soon as I saw the red-band trailer. Ken Marino (THE STATE) stars as Duncan, an exec with terrible stomach problems that turn out to be… well, as ass monster. He names him Milo, and go figure, the little fella is cute as a button! (I want a Milo plush doll.) I watched this one with my buddy Darren and the first time that Milo makes his grand appearance after Duncan struggles on the toilet for several minutes, we were laughing so hard we could barely breathe. The whole movie is a blast and there’s some wonderful comedic performers here including Stephen Root (‘OFFICE SPACE’) who plays Duncan’s father. If you’re looking for a twisted good time, BAD MILO is it. It’s currently available on VOD outlets and arrives on Blu-Ray and DVD January 21st. (TRAILER)
7 – JOHN DIES AT THE END
The latest from Don Coscarelli (of PHANTASM & BUBBA HO-TEP fame!) technically was released via VOD outlets about a year ago, but made it’s theatrical debut back in January of 2013 and I was so thrilled to see it with a sold out crowd over at the Aero Theater here in Los Angeles. It played so beautifully that way and I’m still kind of in awe that this movie was made by such a seasoned horror vet like Coscarelli. You could’ve told me this was the feature film debut from some hot-shot 23 year old filmmaker and I would’ve totally believed it because it has that unique, youthful energy, spirit and originality to it. But considering how out of left field BUBBA HO-TEP was, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that this is the same director. Based upon the book by David Wong, Coscarelli continues to take chances with every new film by taking a book that’s nearly impossible to properly adapt into a movie and his gamble with the material pays off in spades as I found this particular horror/comedy hybrid to be so imaginative and hilarious. My buddy Sean Keller walked out of the theater calling it ‘BILL & TED’S NAKED LUNCH’ and that’s exactly what it feels like. Plus it’s nice to see genre fave Doug Jones out of the make-up for once! If you want to see one of the true “Masters Of Horror” at the top of his game and pulling it off on a low budget, this one’s for you. Be warned, it’s more comedic (and weird) than scary, but it’ll appeal to those of you that are already fans of Coscarelli’s strange and unusual cinematic world. This one’s now available & currently on Netflix Instant. (TRAILER)
6 – CASSADAGA
Here’s one that I caught at LA’s Screamfest back in 2011 which is finally available via VOD and hits DVD on December 31st. (Just barely making it for this year!) What’s cool about it? Well it’s the 2nd feature film from director Anthony DiBlasi who helped produce a handful of Clive Barker movies (MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN, BOOKS OF BLOOD) before writing & directing his own adaptation of Clive’s short story DREAD. Next to the original HELLRAISER, I’d say DREAD is one of the most faithful & best adaptations from Barker’s material, and while I like that movie quite a bit, I haven’t brought myself to revisit it because it’s truly horrifying, unpleasant stuff. CASSADAGA however is part ghost story, part emotional drama, part serial killer slasher (the Geppetto killer is kinda bitchin’) and a full-on thriller to boot. Even though this is DiBlasi’s 2nd feature, it feels like his 4th or 5th feature. I’m just impressed by the growth in terms of his storytelling ability from his last film to this one. If you’re looking for something that’s a bit radical and different, take a shot with CASSADAGA. (TRAILER)
5 – KISS OF THE DAMNED
Xan Cassavetes had already made a strong directorial debut with her documentary THE Z CHANNEL: A MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION, but for her first narrative feature, she tackled the infamous horror sub-genre of vampires! And while there’s nothing really new added to vampire mythology with KISS OF THE DAMNED, what I love about is it’s tremendously stylish, especially considering the commercialization of vampires in the last several years. This is more of a back to the basics European influenced vampire love story. Part of that’s the direction, another major component is the terrific score & music soundtrack assembled for the film (its easily one of my favorite soundtracks of the year) and last but not least, it’s the chemistry between leads Milo Ventimiglia and Josephine de La Baume. I mean there is some hot, hot scenes between the two of them (kissing through the door???) and overall, this is just a really passionate movie, both on screen and behind the scenes. This one’s already available on Blu-Ray, DVD and VOD, so turn down the lights, crank the volume and go along for the ride. (TRAILER)
4 – BENEATH
It goes without saying that Larry Fessenden is one of my all time favorite filmmakers in the genre. His 2nd film HABIT being in my top 5 vampire movies of ever, so I’m always curious to see what Larry will do next, both as a producer and a director. So I was curious just how his giant killer fish flick for Chiller BENEATH would play out. Larry’s favorite movie is JAWS, so I got the sense that this is the sort of thing he’s always wanted to make. And I think it may be his best, most commercially accessible movie to date. If you’re expecting some kind of gory horror comedy romp like the PIRHANA remake, look elsewhere. This is actually a more straight forward approach, despite the ridiculous nature of a movie with a giant killer fish. The reason it works so well is not the threat outside the boat once these kids get stranded in the middle of the lake, it’s the horror that comes from their actions to each other in order to survive. The tagline says it all, “they’re only friends on the surface.” I was rather surprised by how just about every death sequence played out as they’re all not what you’d expect. In fact, my Killer POV co-host Elric Kane and I both agree that there’s one Hitchcock-ian death that could be the best death sequence in horror of the year. While it already aired on Chiller a few months back, the fine folks at Scream Factory will be giving this a proper Blu-Ray/DVD release in the Spring of 2014! (TRAILER)
3 – THE CONJURING
This one’s fairly obviously. James Wan has already proved over the course of the last decade that he’s our generation’s version of John Carpenter and it’s amazing that that little Australian kid that came up with SAW with his friend Leigh Whannell back in 2004 can now say he’s launched three horror franchises! SAW obviously, INSIDIOUS is already prepping for it’s 3rd installment and THE CONJURING (Wan’s 2nd foray into major studio horror) was a huge surprise hit that Warners is planning both a sequel and (rumor has it) spin off films! And of course, the film is great and deserves the accolades it’s been getting. Sometimes what’s old is new again; that’s how I felt about the first INSIDIOUS, a movie I loved and that I felt was trying to capture the spirit of films like POLTERGEIST and what Wan started with that film, he’s essentially perfected with THE CONJURING. A period piece horror film, based on true events with ghosts of an evil witch AND a creepy little doll thrown in for good measure? Yeah, this one’s pretty darned great. Multiple kudos also to Joe Bishara who not only encores on scoring duties from INSIDIOUS, but yet again plays the main baddie behind the make-up for this film & delivers a terrifying performance that I know for a fact has caused nightmares across the country! (TRAILER)
2 – MANIAC
I got to catch this one at the tail end of 2012 and wrote a glowing review of it for Icons Of Fright (read that right HERE) and I still stand by that review. I’ve since watched the film at least 5 or 6 times. For me, the reason it’s so great is because across the board, it’s innovative genre filmmaking. The main gimmick was to completely present the movie from the point of view of the killer, and despite using that particular trick, Elijah Wood’s presence and performance are still felt through out the entire thing, a testament to just how good he is in the role of Frank. Then there’s the unflinching depiction of the violence. Look – the original MANIAC was not an easy pill to swallow, and this one isn’t either. KNB truly delivers some of the most gruesome scalpings you’ll ever see caught on film, but they’re also top-notch artistically. Last but not least, the music! Rob’s score is hands down the best soundtrack of the year and keeps the pulse of the movie moving from start to finish. If you were reluctant about this one because it’s a remake, just remember, the original is always there for you to revisit whenever you want. Give this one a chance, because it’s just as great, if not a little bit better. In fact, I think this would make a great double bill with the original, which to me is a true sign of a good remake. If it can play along the original and not feel like the exact same thing, then you made a worthwhile remake. (TRAILER)
1 – THE BATTERY
Holy smokes, did it come close. I really wanted to put MANIAC in the number one slot. Then I debated THE CONJURING, because its the type of wide horror movie release that just about everyone (including non-horror fans) can enjoy. But at the end of the day, the best horror movie of the year was an underdog. The little movie that could. And it still continues to build it’s reputation. I’m talking about the writing/directorial/ acting debut from Jeremy Gardner THE BATTERY. It’s a super low budget zombie movie shot out in Connecticut that follows two former baseball players that are trying to just survive in a zombie ridden post apocalyptic world. I know what you’re thinking because I thought the same thing. For me personally? I’m kind of sick of zombie movies. There’s just about nothing new that can be done with that sub-genre. Super low-budget indie flick? Yeah, that always arouses my suspicions as well. But what works so beautiful about THE BATTERY is that it’s character driven. The zombies are secondary. It’s all about the relationship between Ben & Mickey, who prior to this predicament weren’t really friends. They’re just kind of stuck together because there’s no one else and they’re trying to make the best of the situation. There’s gorgeous cinematography, a stellar selection of songs for the soundtrack, some truly unique and hilarious bits of dialogue/ scenes and just two characters you can’t help but fall in love with. There’s also an impressive and incredibly suspenseful 11 minute take that has to be experienced to truly be appreciated. This one’s not out on DVD just yet, however it is available on VOD outlets and more importantly, you can buy it directly from the director for $5 bucks. Trust me on this one, for the price of 2 cups of coffee, you can enjoy what I consider the best horror movie of 2013. (TRAILER)
WORLD WAR Z: After all the production troubles we heard about, the movie actually turned out to be far better than anyone expected. Granted, I haven’t finished reading the book yet, so I know it’s not a faithful adaptation of the source material, but as far as big budget zombie epics go, this one’s pretty darned good. I liked that it kept getting bigger and bigger and eventually settled on a very contained third act, a wise choice to reshoot that portion of the film to make a stronger overall movie. Way to go, Brad Pitt!
EVIL DEAD: I didn’t love the EVIL DEAD remake as most did on it’s initial SXSW debut, but it was pretty darned good & I enjoyed it just fine. At least in terms of being a huge studio release, it’s amazing that they got away with putting out such a gory, mean spirited movie. Biggest bummer was getting excited over the trailer, only to realize at least 3 things from it were cut from the final movie. A double-dip “unrated cut” is inevitable at some point. But for now, if you want a messy (I’m talking about the gore here) over-the-top traditional cabin in the woods horror movie, this is kind of the golden standard.
STOKER: I don’t know if I’d consider this a “horror” movie, honestly. I think it definitely falls in line with a lot of Hitchcock’s output. Was Hitchcock a horror director? Sure, for the most part. PSYCHO and THE BIRDS at least. Is Park Chan-wook a horror director? Not exactly, but his films falls in line with what horror fans seem to like aesthetically. STOKER is a beautifully told film. In someone else’s hands, it’d merely be just another mystery/thriller. It’s Park Chan-wook’s eye and unique knack for storytelling that elevates the material to be far better than how it’s scripted. But there’s something that doesn’t connect with me on this movie. I think it’s that it feels like an American remake of an already great pre-existing Korean film, even though it’s not. I felt the same way about THE LAST STAND, Kim Jee-Woon’s American debut. Had both these films been made with Korean actors, I’d love them so much more. But it is Park Chan-wook and all his stuff always warrants a look.
CURSE OF CHUCKY: There’s plenty of fun surprises and suspenseful moments in CURSE OF CHUCKY, the 6th in the CHILD’S PLAY franchise, but honestly, all that matters it that brief 4-5 minute post credit scene on the unrated cut. It’s my favorite moment from any of the sequels!
Wow, can you believe horror television this year? Horror got it’s due with BATES MOTEL, HANNIBAL, THE FOLLOWING, AMERICAN HORROR STORY, THE WALKING DEAD, and although I haven’t seen these yet, there’s also been DRACULA, SLEEPY HOLLOW, UNDER THE DOME. Next year will offer even more known properties with a ROSEMARY’S BABY mini-series on queue, as well as THE STRAIN based on Guillermo del Toro’s books!
THE SACRAMENT arrives on VOD on May 5th and then theatrically on June 6th. Caught it at the AFI festival and it’s by far the best film that Ti West and AJ Bowen have done. It’ll most definitely be on my best of for next year. Also, Elijah Wood continues to offer horror fans some good stuff with GRAND PIANO, also starring Alex Winter and John Cusack, as well as A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT (which Wood produced through Spectrevision), a black & white vampire tale debut from director Ana Lily Amirpour that’s very reminiscent of how I felt the first seeing LET THE RIGHT ONE IN. It’s in that vein. Still looking forward to Bobcat Goldthwait’s WILLOW CREEK. I’m also eagerly anticipating DEVIL’S DUE (from RADIO SILENCE, the filmmaking troupe that delivered the best, scariest & final segment in V/H/S), Alex Aja’s HORNS, ALMOST HUMAN, Scott Derrickson’s new one DELIVER US FROM EVIL, BIG BAD WOLVES and last but not least GODZILLA!
What about you guys? What are you most looking forward to next year? And what were your favorites of 2013?
Check out my top horror picks from previous years:
Rob G.’s Top Picks Of 2012
Icons Of Fright Present’s Rob G.’s Top 10 Of 2011
Top 10 Horror Films Of 2009: Rob G.’s Picks
Icons Of Fright’s Best Of 2008
Icons Of Fright’s Best Of 2007
Icons Of Fright’s Best Of 2006