It’s been a pretty amazing year for genre fans so far. Either our collective moans and groans concerning the current state of horror were heard and addressed, or we were just assaulted with the mediocre for so long that anything above average seems amazing. Either way, there’s no shortage of solid flicks to enjoy right now, and we’re just at the halfway mark. Some studios/distributors are rocking it at a more prolific rate than others, but all around it’s been a solid half year. It seems like Magnet Releasing, and IFC Midnight in particular are throwing us more great genre content than we can consume without getting heartburn. There have even been several great widely released titles. The remake machine is still churning, there seems to be no stopping it, but the focus appears to be shifting away from that cash-grab, in favor of more original, engaging content. Below is a list of films that have made me a happy horror nerd this year. I’m sure I’ll forget to include a title or two, so please let me know if you feel like something has been unfairly omitted.
The fourth entry into the Scream franchise, despite it’s lackluster box office take, has made a lot of naysayers, myself included, eat their words. I don’t think any of us anticipating this sequel being as good as it turned out to be. Everything one could ask for from a franchise entry was present, and much more. The violence was amped up, the story was engaging, the twist was unexpected. Scream 4 reinvigorated the series, and brought the somewhat dated concepts of the original trilogy into the new technologically advanced age. The best part about the film for me was it’s clever stab at sequels and remakes. It somehow managed to straddle the line of being a sequel, and being a series reboot of sorts it’s self. You can tell that the idea of a Scream remake was definitely toyed around with, but ultimately rejected, opting for a more original way of rehashing some of the same ideas from the original film, without feeling like a stale, money grabbing gesture. The introduction of new cast members made things seem fresh, but the inclusion of the original characters at a large capacity kept things familiar for those of us that have a stronger connection to the original trilogy than some of today’s youth might. Scream 4 bridges the generational gap between us old timers, and the next generation of horror fans.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from Insidious. I recognize that James Wan has an eye for horror, but I hadn’t been a fan of most of what he had done up until this point. I have a sense of disdain for Dead Silence. For whatever reason, I just couldn’t see the positive aspects of that film that other people seem to have found. I wasn’t a huge fan of the original Saw, either, despite it becoming a cultural phenomenon, I just didn’t “get it”. I like a couple of the sequels, but not enough to write about. Another strike Insidious has against it is the advertising. “From the filmmakers that brought you Saw and Paranormal Activity” is not exactly what I want to hear when looking for quality entertainment. That being said, I went in with an open mind, and I was pleasantly surprised. Insidious accomplished something that no other film has done for decades. It scared the shit out of me. We toss the word “disturbing” around fairly liberally here in the horror community, but very rarely are we referring to the psychological side of that term. Insidious plays on childhood fears that have long since been forgotten. It manages to feel fresh, and original, while also paying homage to some of the classics in the supernatural sub-genre. I had a few gripes about the direction they took near the finale, but the damage had already been done, and Insidious would stay with me for weeks after I left the theater.
Okay, so this might not really be a horror film, but it’s certainly gory enough, and insane enough to make the list. “Hobo” was originally a faux grindhouse trailer, created by director Jason Eisner as a contest entry sponsored by the makers of the 2007 Tarantino/Rodriguez vehicle “Grindhouse”. Eisner won the contest, the trailer was shown in front of Grindhouse in limited territories, and it ultimately led to the production of the full length feature. This wasn’t the first fake trailer from Grindhouse to make the conversion to feature length. Robert Rodriguez turned his own fake grindhouse trailer, Machete, into a widely released theatrical insanity. As far as I’m concerned though, “Hobo” is superior to Machete in every way. Rather than feeling like an obvious spoof of the era it’s paying homage, “Hobo” actually feels like it was made during the ’70s exploitation boom. It feels genuine, whereas Machete feels forced. Blood, guts, head explosions, seemingly mechanical samurais, public decapitations, and even an octopus, “Hobo” has it all, and is extremely well executed. Did I mention that the film stars Rutger Hauer? If that doesn’t tip you over the fence, I don’t know what will.
The last few years have seen an influx of Japanese and Korean horror, yet China does not seem to be making the same sort of waves in the genre. Dream Home will change that. It is easily the most disturbing and inventively violent slasher film that I’ve seen since Inside and, like that film with France, Dream Home uses Hong Kong to its advantage. The film feels like it could not have come from anywhere else and retains the same kinetic energy that Hong Kong action films were thrusting on to screens in the early 90s. This is my favorite genre release thus far in 2011 and something is going to have to do something really special to surpass that. If this is still on VOD in your area (it has not received much theatrical attention here) than make sure to check it out.
Wake Wood is another strong film from the return of Hammer. Let Me In was one of the biggest surprises in the genre in 2010, yet did not retain the British wit and macabre sense of humor that their films from decades ago did. Wake Wood brings all of that back and is refreshingly dark as well. It may lack the polish that an international wide release like Let Me In has, but it makes up for it by offering a unique tale and some of the more cringe inducing horror scenes included in any film I saw this year. It was sadly not given a theatrical release here in the states but it should thrive on home video and reach the audience it deserves.
The Troll Hunter is a Norwegian film, that takes the concept of a found footage film, and shows American filmmakers how to do it properly. I thought this gimmick had died, but every time I think that it comes roaring back into popularity. A couple of high profile, high budget Hollywood projects are utilizing this style for their Summer Blockbusters later in the year. The Troll Hunter isn’t flashy. It doesn’t have a massive budget, but it still manages to work better than most of what we’ve been given this side of the pod. The creature effects are amazing, the story is suspenseful, and the characters are all likeable enough so that you can invest your interest into them. Apparently, one of director André Øvredal’s biggest influences was Jurassic Park. It shows in several scenes, especially near the end. Biology of the creatures is explained, and not in a cheesy way, and the variation of the different types of trolls is highly interesting. The Troll Hunter is every bit as good as any Hollywood blockbuster could ever be.
Stake Land is the best American vampire film since Near Dark in 87. I very rarely, if ever give a film a perfect score, as there’s always something that could have been tweaked a bit, but I honestly can’t imagine changing anything about this film. The story and settings are bleak, and hopeless, the characters are properly downtrodden, and the vampires are impressively dark, dirty, and vicious. There’s nothing romantic about these bloodsuckers, nothing sparkly either. They have only one intention, and that is to drain you of your blood, and leave you in a pile of rotting corpses alongside the abandoned road. Director Jim Mickle’s first film was the gritty NYC romp for the After Dark Horrorfest, “Mullberry Street”. Mickle brings that style along with him for the ride, but amps up the chaos, the production values, and pretty much every aspect of his directorial abilities in Stake Land. If you’ve pretty much lost interest in the sub-genre, due to lack of solid content, Stake Land is the cure for your woes.
YellowBrickRoad might just be the bridge between the viewers that loved The Blair Witch Project, and the viewers that didn’t. It’s similar in tone, but it lacks the mockumentary gimmick that has been driven into the ground by budding filmmakers since the surprise success of BWP. YBR sucks the viewer in, by doing it’s best to put the audience into the same shoes as the characters in the movie. They can’t simulate for you, being stranded in the woods, that would be impossible, but one of the things that’s wearing down on the film’s characters is mysterious, obnoxious music, and the audience is assaulted with this to the point that they themselves begin to feel hostile. It’s definitely one of the creepier films I’ve seen for a while, bested only by James Wan’s Insidious. YellowBrickRoad is a must see for anyone searching for something a little bit different. June 1st starts a limited theatrical run for the film, distributed by the newly formed Bloody Disgusting Selects label, YBR will be unleashed upon viewers that can make it to select AMC theaters, and then a month later will be distributed to home video.
Yes, I know I included this film in my best of 2010 list, but it’s just now being made available to most people, so it goes back on the list. I sort of tuned Asian horror out for a while. Mostly because everything I watched was the same film rehashed. I look to the foreign markets to escape the drudgery of Hollywood’s lack of creativity, not to see it being mimicked by other territories. If I had to sit through one more movie where the baddie was a creepy, skinny little pale faced kid with stringy hair, I was going to off myself. Unfortunately, by giving a pass to anything from the continent, I missed out on some solid, and in some cases, groundbreaking films. I Saw The Devil is the perfect blend of a crime thriller, a serial killer slasher, and a revenge film. It’s dark, bleak, violent, mean spirited, and superbly executed. If there were any other movie on this list that I would give a perfect score to, it would be this.
Some people are not liking the Mexican cannibal film We Are What We Are. I think it may have something to do with bad marketing. The film was basically advertised as some crazy violent cannibal film. In fact, it’s more of a drama, centering around a family of ritualistic cannibals that’s just lost the leader of their household. Even though these are despicable, and are carrying out horrendous acts of violence in the name of their religion, you can’t help but sympathize with their situation. A mother, and her three children have just suffered the loss of their father/husband. The children struggle to take his place as head of the household. With that,comes the responsibility of stalking, killing, and presented for consumption a human corpse. WAWWA is not particularly enjoyable, but it is a really solid character driven drama, centered around a group of people committing heinous acts of violence. If you’re a fan of slow burning films, it’s worth giving it a shot. If you’re expecting some sort of action packed cannibalistic horror film, you’ll be disappointed.
F is a sort of original take on the high-school slasher film by British director Johannes Roberts. Rather than overloading the audience with overly stylistic editing, and unbelievably attractive characters, Roberts treats the audience with a eerie environment, created by great camera work, lighting, and one of the most amazing scores I’ve heard in a while. The film is a little violent, but it has more of a creep factor than it relies on blood. You don’t have any idea who the assailant could possibly be, or how many of them there are. Decked out in full face covering hoodies, the baddies in this film bring chill to the audience by utilizing the art of parkour to move about gracefully, and in some cases, almost supernaturally. One thing that may turn some viewers off though, is the lack of any real closer to the story. There is a finale, and it’s fitting to the rest of the film, but if you’re the type of person that needs elements of the plot spoonfed to you, and wrapped up in a neat little package, you my find yourself a bit frustrated. Those of you that are willing to take a chance regardless of that though, will be treated to a real hidden gem of a slasher flick.
As I mentioned before, things have surely been left off of this list. If it’s not on here, either it wasn’t that great, I haven’t gotten around to watching it, or it simply slipped my mind. If you can think of something that deserves to be here and isn’t, please call me out on it. Dream Home and Wake Wood were contributed by Justin LaLiberty. It’s been a great year so far. Hopefully the trend continues.