It seems like every year I get to the end of December and I am always mad at myself for seemingly missing out on tons of great horror fare. I spend the first few months of the next year catching up. In 2011 I had the great fortune of watching more new movies than I had previous years. I also am lucky enough to live in a town (Rochester, NY) that has two Independent theaters, so I ended up seeing a lot of stuff that a lot of small or even moderately sized cities missed out on. When I sat down and tried to come up with my top ten list I realized that I couldn’t. It wasn’t that I didn’t see enough good films, I definitely did, but it seemed like I had four films that I considered to be the best, and the rest were all good but just fell in a mass after those first four. In that spirit, let me tell you about the movies that absolutely, positively defined horror for me in 2011.
I went into Hobo With A Shotgun knowing two things- it was called Hobo With A Shotgun and it was a Canuxploitation film. Translated that means a Canadian exploitation film. As the film started and I watched Rutger Hauer riding in on a railcar, a sweeping tune playing behind him, a smirk spread across my face. The smirk only left for brief intervals when I was laughing out loud. If you have yet to see the film, it tells the tale of the Hobo, who rides into town and sees the streets being run by Drake and his sons Slick and Ivan, the local thugs. Drugs, prostitution , violence and child molesters run rampant and he hits his breaking point and begins to take back the streets with his shotgun. Along the way he finds an unlikely sidekick and friend in Abby, a hooker with a heart of gold. The film itself is painted in bold strokes- a graffiti ridden city, corrupt cops and destitute inhabitants on every corner. I can honestly say I have never seen anything quite like it. One of the most perfect exploitation films ever made. I chose it as my number one film of this past year for that reason. That and the endless quotability. On an almost daily basis since first seeing it I find a way to be reminded of it, usually through recitation. I’d say I’ve watched it at least 20 times since I got it on DVD, and I really see no signs of it slowing down. This movie is endlessly fascinating and I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Next on my list comes Attack The Block, a film set in the streets of South London. A group of Chav youths find themselves being under attack instead of being the ones attacking when an alien invasion strikes out of nowhere. When the film begins you see these teens as pompous assholes, instilling fear into a young nurse and robbing her. As I watched the film I was determined there was no way I would ever appreciate these characters. The film takes a turn and allows us to see behind the tough exteriors and remember these are just kids. Any time a filmmaker can have me hating a character one moment to revering them the next I can do nothing but salute them. The aliens are ferocious and not passive; masses of the deepest black with neon blue, razor sharp teeth. The filmmaker shows us that he isn’t afraid to kill children or animals. It leaves us with a sense that we really have no idea what could happen next. The film has comedy and drama all the same with a bit of blood as we horror nerds tend to like. Attack The Block is one of the most exciting films I have ever seen, complimented by a pounding score from Basement Jaxx. This is me telling you that both the film and soundtrack are wise financial investments.
I knew nothing of Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil before I saw it. I had seen the poster but had strayed away from catching the trailer. I honestly thought it was the tale of two rednecks taking on evil forces. How wrong I was. The film is another entry from Canada, though not marketed as such and why would it be when it‘s about Southern culture? It stars Alan Tudyk as Tucker who has given me a nerd boner ever since Firefly, and truth be told he was another one of the reasons I had to see this film. Tucker and his best friend Dale (played by Tyler Labine) head out to Tucker’s vacation home on the lake for a weekend of beers, fishing and remodeling. On their way out to the house they come across some archetypal college kids who see Tucker and Dale as nothing but inbred bumpkins. Little do they know they’re all vacationing on the same stretch of water. During some late night fishing the two parties manage to create a misunderstanding that leaves bodies in it’s wake. This film boasts some incredibly inventive deaths and beautiful gore. It could be a flat out comedy and plays as such, the horror is present but could just as rightfully be a garnish to the main course. While Tudyk is the seasoned actor in this equation, Labine steals the show as the redneck who knew too much. There are only a couple of times where the momentum slows down, but it more than makes up for it, moreso in the lead up to the climax rather than the climax itself. I go so far as calling this a deconstructionist horror film, a severely clever one at that. Don’t let the title fool you and rush out to get this film as soon as you can. It’s one of the funniest I’ve seen in a long while.
Last on my list is a certainly not least situation. Lucky McKee’s The Woman is a film I had known about long before I should’ve known anything about it. I am one of Lucky’s diehard fans. In my eyes the man can do no wrong, so I suppose it shouldn’t come as a surprise to people who know me to find this film on my list. McKee wrote this one with his friend and collaborator, Jack Ketchum. It’s a loose follow-up to The Offspring. Pollyanna McIntosh plays the Woman, feral, and targeted by Chris Cleek (Sean Bridgers) who kidnaps her and brings her to his home in order to domesticate her. His family are bystanders to Cleek’s domineering patriarchy, and they wilt to his wishes as he forces them to become accomplices to his captivity of the Woman. We see the inner workings of his family and how they have fallen apart over the years from his abuse and we are shown how this Woman will become their undoing in the very best of ways. The soundtrack of the film was created alongside it while it was being shot. Watching it and hearing the music play out makes the themes resonate that much more. Lucky McKee continues to create and foster intense female characters, something rare to see so consistently from a male director. The Woman is a beautiful representation of how ugly human nature can be. Another film on my list that gives us gore, however this one only gives us bits and pieces. The events are far more horrifying than the blood. It’s a tough watch emotionally, but visually stunning. McKee has said this is his purest film. For me, while May will always be my favorite Lucky film, The Woman is his masterpiece. So far anyways, he has a long career ahead of him.
While these four films are varied and traverse in and out of typical horror conventions and have little to no bond between each other, they are the epitome of what horror can be if only there is someone smart enough to fight for it and make it happen. In this day and age where we are so vehemently opposed to the Hollywood malarkey machine, pumping out remakes and unoriginality, here are just four of countless original films that made their way out in 2011. While this list is the top of the pops for me, make sure you go out and explore everything you may have missed, hidden gems are everywhere. Guaranteed that most of the horror films that hit theaters didn’t even scratch the surface of what we all should’ve watched. It’s only January, you have some time to catch up.