Sunday, March 4

Best Horror Films of 2011

Some might disagree, but I was pleasantly surprised by the horror genre this year. In past years it seems like horror achieved more missed opportunities and steps than actually success. This year marked a slight change, films that leisured in oblivion waiting for distribution finally came out, foreign markets challenged the lackluster sensibility of the American market, and stories held more weight on the creative front. All in all, I thought it was a good year. So, without further meandering, here is the best of 2011…HORROR!!!

(Warning: Some of these films deal with elements of an extremely sensitive subject matter. Viewer discretion is strongly advised.)

Guilty Pleasure Feature
Drive Angry
Again, my Nic Cage love has overtaken me. How can you not like crazy-face Nic Cage and drop dead gorgeous Amber Heard in an over-the-top horror-exploitation film? There’s also William Fichtner as the bounty-hunting demon, chewing up scenery every time he’s on screen. Its lowbrow sensibility makes it a winner for me.

Best “Giallo” Feature
I think Dario Argento would be proud with this feature. It’s neither amazing or a disaster, but the homage paid to the Giallo feature is impressive. It feels almost plot-less at times, colors saturate numerous scenes, and close-ups are abundant, synthesized driven music that overtakes the scene. A great study piece for Giallo fans.  

Best “Not On The List” Foreign Feature
La Casa Muda (Silent House)
I don’t want to spoil much, considering the American remake of this film comes out soon. It’s an interesting concept to film in running time, but where this approach displays the great acting abilities of the characters, it also hinders a bit of the narrative structure, which is why it didn’t quite make the cut. It will be interesting to see if the minor missteps of the original will be amended in the remake.

Best “When Animals Attack” Feature
The Reef
Yet another guilty pleasure, The Reef does a great job of building tension without really showing the monsters beneath the water. Yes, sharks are stalking them, but you never know if it’s numerous sharks or just one because of the nicely composed perspective and editing techniques. Sometimes not seeing the animal lets you mind compose a greater monster than the film can make.

Best “Non-Horror Exploitation” Feature
The Last Circus
It’s a clown film, but rather than dredge along with straightforward killer clowns, The Last Circus composes unique characters that make ridiculous decisions. The first half of the film is dedicated to the nobility associated with the history and performance of clowns, and then depravity takes over.
Hobo With A Shotgun
Rutger Hauer was made for this role. This film is a cartoon come to life, where taboo and good-taste take a back seat for Director Jason Eisener to assault the viewer with imagery. What doesn’t happen in this film?

Best Horror Films of 2011
12. We Are What We Are
Mexico delivers a well-produced cannibal film. The artistic elements that compose the film, like the color saturation, cinematography, and editing, are nicely conceived. The story, although familiar, is cleverly formulated with a mix of characters that portray a fractured family structure. With any cannibalism film, the gore is more than sufficient for any appetite (I had too).
11. Kill List
Do yourself a favor and ignore any hype that has been printed about this film. Try, if you can, not to read the synopsis of this film, it leads the viewer too much. This is a well-done film from a director with lots of future potential. Though many people I’ve talked too are split on this film, I think it’s worth a look. Not a traditional horror film, but it’s flooded with great genre elements.
10. Dream Home
Dream Home implements elements of societal structure and class identification around the brutality of a practical effects driven horror show. The gore and viciousness is abundant and rivals the American counterpart Saw, however what is lacking in the Saw franchise has always been a proper story. Instead of relying on violence to forward the story, the story obliges a realistic circumstance for the young adult in Japan. This attention to the narrative element is what separates Dream Home from the usually casualties of films that deal a heavy amount of gratuitous violence. (Not for the squeamish)
9. Kidnapped
Call it paranoia or the fact that I watch too many horror films, but I check my doors sometimes three times a night before I go to bed. Not to mention the extra security measures I’ve taken to fortify my house, but still, home invasion stories spook me. The fact that those living in populous cities can see home invasion stories on the evening news every week makes Kidnapped level realism from the beginning. The cinematography in this film is remarkable, and the DePalma-esque editing polishes the bleak final product beautifully. It’s calculated and methodical pacing keeps the viewer hoping till the final frame. (Not for the squeamish)
8. The Innkeepers
Nearly every Ti West film has made my year-end wrap up list. The Innkeepers is a deliberately paced ghost story that harkens back to eerie sensibilities of some 1970’s horror fare. But it is also ingeniously written and the characters are organized with distinctive traits that garner empathy and humor.  Sara Paxton demonstrates her comedic side with keen timing and improvisation, she is the glue that binds the slow development, and without her this narrative aspect wouldn’t work. The scares are genuine; little things like opening a door or turning a corner have a surprising tension. It’s a nice return to simple scares.
7. The Skin I Live In
Leave it to the auteur, Pedro Almodovar, to craft a film that is the truest description of the word “creepy”.  For those familiar with Almodovar’s body of work, the themes of betrayal, sexual exploration, abandonment, and identity play prominently in his films; in The Skin I Live In these themes are complicated further with the mix of horror and science fiction melodramatic premises. It verges on the edge of combustion, themes weaving throughout the dark subject matter link together with a perfect blend of humor and horror. This is a film for experienced and capable hands, and possible only for Almodovar to achieve.
6. Black Death
I can’t help but compare Black Death to the 1968 film Witchfinder General. They both play on aspects of religion and the corruption that abounds by manipulating faith. The premise concerns a knight, played by go-to medieval actor Sean Bean, tasked with finding a village untouched by the black plague. It is believed dark forces are behind the village’s health, so the church sends a monk for religious armament. The result is an interesting take on faith and religion, how strong is one’s faith in themselves and ultimately in the higher power. 
5. Troll Hunter
At one point in this film a man is running from noises in the thicket of the forest and yells at a group of Norwegian film students one word that made my inner teenager stand up and cheer. He said….”TROLL!!!!” Utilizing the vérité style perspective, Troll Hunter explores the folklore behind the troll mythos. The CGI trolls look good and are accommodated wisely by the documentary style perspective, the switch from the deep dark of forest to the dull whites and greys of the mountains hide any imperfections one might see. It’s a clever blend of comedy and monster madness.
4. The Loved Ones
There is nothing like a good coming-of-age film, especially one with copious amounts of gore! I always find it interesting when these films involve a high-school setting; when it is done right, like it is here, the combination is a mix of familiar archetypes that have a relatable quality. You can feel and see the growing pains and awkwardness of the youth in the film. The intelligence of this film lies in the restraint the director holds, the director cleverly holds punches just before he throws a knockout blow, only to savagely pummel you into the ground then lend a hand to help you up. And, after all this torment the film and director puts the viewer through, you can’t help but want to be friends with it all. One day this film will make it to America, maybe.
I wish you could have all watched this flick in a crowded theater with an audience that loves horror movies like I did. I was at an early screening for this, and from the look and feel of the crowd, I knew that I was in a place with people that wanted to be scared. The crowd jumped and screamed at all the right stuff; it was pleasant to see an audience so attune to the film. Insidious takes a little from a few different classics, but it feels more like homage than a blatant rip-off. It uses atmosphere with great effect, both in the film and with the soundtrack for the audience. There is a wealth of creepy imagery as well, small elements that payoff big when you find yourself alone in the dark.
2. Tucker and Dale vs. Evil
It’s been two years since I heard about this movie and it just got a theatrical release this year. Why you might ask? I have no idea!! It’s an excellent film. With so many movies doing cliché, same ol’, gimmicks it’s interesting when a film turns them around and pays tribute to them. What made this film get lost in the shuffle is the fact that it’s difficult to market. Some will argue that you can’t necessarily call it a “horror” film, but it does have elements familiar with horror, and because it’s already hard to categorize, horror is the genre it fits. It’s because of this marketing conundrum that it was so difficult for this film to find distribution, or at least that’s what I assume. The film is a case of mistaken identity, and stereotyping, that brings about a series of gruesome and unfortunate events, and ultimately entangles the title characters in the bad luck. It’s an interesting concept that plays with horror movie imagery and pays off with fantastic gore effects.  A definite must watch.

1. Attack the Block
Kids meet aliens were seen on both sides of the ocean this year. America gave us Super 8, but the U.K. gave us Attack the Block. No disrespect to Super 8, it was a good film with fun and exciting moments and an outbreak performance from Elle Fanning. But, Attack The Block was nonstop fun for me, aided by an equally rising-star performance from John Boyega as the man-child Moses. Director Joe Cornish crafted a simplistic story with great characters. Some mischievous youth, working as a gang of street tough burglars in Inner City London, kill the wrong alien, unleashing an invasion from outer space. The aliens are crafted with mystery, blacker than black, with neon blue jaws; the teens are a mix of personalities each with identifiable traits. This element of character makes the small things seem realistic, like the back and fourth banter between the teens; it makes it all the more unnerving when they confront the alien beasts. There is also a nice element of youth growing up quicker than they need too because of the environment they are in. It has a nice mix of supporting characters, some as voices of reason, comedic breaks, or villains…it’s all extremely well rounded.


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