Friday, January 10, 2014

The Year In Review

I've been reading a lot of Best Horror Movies of 2013 lists these last few days, and while many of their picks are indisputable (The Conjuring), I tend to highly rank horror movies based on the level of enjoyment I experienced while watching it (Hatchet III), and not necessarily on quality of movie alone.

I find it surprising but I've come to realize that many horror movie reviewers are horror movie snobs. Understandably so, most of the reviewers that I read have a large audience to answer to and so they want to deliver a quality review that doesn't steer people wrong. But where's the fun in that? This is a genre built on the bones of fun - granted, for people who find fucked up things fun, but still - don't all of us love the silly thrills of teenagers getting picked off one by one at the hands of a man with a chainsaw? I love a well-written, scary-as-hell horror movie as much as the next girl, but I also equally love the tasteless gore-fests, the low budgeters, the teen screams, the slow burners, and the like. In other words, the movies that most reviewers dismiss. But that's why I'm here. To show you all that there's more than one way to skin a cat. And there's also more than one way to love a horror movie.

On to the lists! (omg I love lists)

Doll's Top 10 Horror Movie Picks of 2013

The Conjuring

The Conjuring may just be one of the best horror movies in years. That's right, I said it. Scoff if you want to but I've spent my entire adult life not being scared when I watch a horror movie, and this movie scared me so often it was embarrassing. With no gore and very little blood, it works its way into your fear sweet spot with its silently chilling scenes and its downright menacing ones. Sure, some of the jump scenes you anticipate, but most of them you don't. And with a solid script, superb acting, and interesting, likable characters, this movie wins on most fronts. Its only downfall, albeit a major one, was part of its ending. The "power of love" has no place in my horror movie. It makes me all... stabby.

Alyce Kills

This indie movie snuck in under-the-radar and surprised the hell out of me. It's a movie that begins with Obsession and then spins itself into Compulsion and then collapses into Depravity. It's essentially a one woman show with Jade Dornfeld as the brilliantly realized Alyce, and a few supporting players here and there, most notably Eddie Rouse who plays Rex. Talk about a slimy, disgusting man who is utterly compelling. On the surface this movie is straightforward and simple, and yet there's nothing simple about it. Strange moments segue into philosophical musings, normal gets hijacked by insanity, and we just want to keep watching it all transpire until everyone dies, ever.

Evil Dead

The Evil Dead remake scared the shit out of me with its trailer alone. And then I saw the movie and realized the trailer was just a glimpse into the hell that Evil Dead exists within. Everything about this movie is bleak. The atmosphere, the coloring, the characters, the stage... it's a yellowish grey world and they're all just dying in it. And dying in it. And dying in it. Is it going to win any awards for its brilliant script and fantastic acting? Probably not (though it still delivers on those goods). But whereas The Conjuring serves as a good horror movie, the Evil Dead serves as a horrific one. So many flicks in the genre fall short on that these days. Like stabbing someone in the chest and watching blood spurt out of their mouths is anything new or compelling. Instead, let's slice through our own faces. Now, that's entertainment.

Black Rock

The new (old) phase of horror is one that no one is talking about. Revenge horror. We all understand the Final Girl trope, but the current trend of horror movie is taking the Final Girl, putting her through hell, and then having her exact her revenge. Her bloody, bloody revenge. A quick rundown of some of the more recent releases in this genre: the remakes of I Spit on Your Grave and I Spit on Your Grave 2, American Mary, Girls Against Boys, Alyce Kills, Silent House, Rites of Spring, The Last House on the Left remake, Straw Dogs remake, The Seasoning House, and Black Rock - to name a few. I've written before on my views of strengthening women through the path of victimization. In a nutshell, I think it's insulting and counterproductive to the equality of women. With that said, it does make for some compelling films for the horror genre. Black Rock was one of my favorites in that genre this year, and mostly because at its heart the movie is about the bond of women friendships. It's more of a cat and mouse chase than most and doesn't linger around or exploit violence for violence sake. And I suppose that's part of what makes it an exciting story that is grounded in what feels like a real life scenario. Katie Aselton, who wrote, directs and stars in Black Rock, is accompanied by two strong female actresses, the ever-talented Lake Bell and Kate Bosworth. The dialog in this is superbly realistic and the relationships between the women are equally, realistically complicated. There are some truly terrifying scenes that test the resiliency of the desire to survive at any cost, and how capable we can become when protecting someone we love. Watch it with your BFF.

World War Z

Out of all the sub-genres of horror, the zombie apocalypse is by far my favorite. There is no greater scary monster than that of the mindless, hungry animal of the human being. Despite George Romero's proclamations that "Fast Zombies Suck" (he made it into a t-shirt), fast zombies are scary as shit. Whether they are the undead or the rage-infested, the fast-moving pack of crazy fucking zombies is the most terrifying thing I can think of. And on that front, World War Z delivered in spades. I didn't read the novel so I'm not of the - I hate the movie because it wasn't like the book - camp. Instead, I visited upon this story with fresh eyes and what I saw left me breathless. Brad Pitt, irregardless of his dashing good looks, is a damn fine actor. He gave an immense level of humanity to his character and to this film, and whenever you have that quality in a story it makes all of the horror surrounding it seem so much more devastating. I eagerly await the sequel. 


The original 1980 movie Maniac is a cult classic. It's definitely weird, especially for the '80s, with its hallucinatory elements, creepy mannequins, and staple dead mother issues, and Joe Spinell who plays Frank the killer, is an ugly, sweaty hulk of a man who I would pretty much peg as a serial killer if I saw him on the street. But at its core, the '80s version of Maniac is still just a slasher movie. With a great many kill scenes and chase scenes, it almost forgets that it's going for something more. Something stranger. So it was interesting to see that the remake of Maniac was such a shift in focus. Literally. For the majority of the movie it is all from the POV of Frank. It takes a little while to get used to and I admit it was a little frustrating for a while. It was an unexpected element of the movie and I longed to see the bigger picture instead of just being behind the lens of Frank's eyes. Eventually I adjusted and when I did the experience of watching the movie almost became like an art piece. We see Frank through reflections in mirrors and store windows and he's a handsome man. There's something more dangerous about a handsome killer. You can see yourself falling into his web more easily, willingly. And women do. But Frank is obviously unstable. In fact, Frank is downright insane. The remake of Maniac is still a slasher movie, but it succeeds in being much more than that. It's a strange, fucked up world where Frank lives, and we're trapped right there with him.

V/H/S 2

Anthology films have been very popular in horror lately. In fact, there have been 8 in the last two years alone. V/H/S 2 is the latest installment in this trend and surprisingly, it's one of the strongest in a while. While not all of the segments are terrific (the weakest being one about an alien invasion), the two that are the best, A Ride in the Park and Safe Haven, are extremely good. A Ride in the Park tells the story of a man who goes for a bike ride through the woods and is attacked by a zombie. It's only about twenty minutes long or so and tells a more effective zombie story that most full length movies do. And Safe Haven... well, it's downright disturbing. In it is a pedophile cult leader, zombie-like ghouls, a horrific birth, mass suicides, and a giant demonic creature. Most anthologies struggle with the main narrative that string all of the segments together, as we saw with its predecessor in V/H/S. However in this sequel they seem to have put more thought into the main story, adding reanimated corpses and reasoning behind watching these tapes in the first place. Granted, they probably could have done better, but it was just weird enough to make the framework compelling.

Cold Prey 2

Cold Prey 2 was one of the most highly anticipated movies for me this year. Which is hilarious considering it was made in 2008. Apparently five years is how long it takes between releasing a movie in Norway and then giving us Americans a DVD of it. I expect to be watching Cold Prey 3 in 2015. Cold Prey 2 picks up moments after the first one left off, with Jannicke covered in blood and stumbling around in the Norwegian mountains. If ever a sequel was even better than the first (and the original was awesome) it's probably here. Within minutes we're thrust back into Jannicke's nightmare, she is jittery and scared, even in the face of rescue, and as it turns out, she has every right to be. What makes this series so endearing is that the characters are instantly just so damn likable. Until they die of course. Which makes us sad. Cold Prey doesn't pretend to be anything other than a straightforward slasher movie, but at this it excels. With great actors, a dangerous terrain, and a killer who is scary as all hell, Cold Prey 2 serves its purpose and well.

American Mary

As I had mentioned before, revenge horror is quite the trend these days. While historically this sub-genre has included stories that center around men seeking revenge (Old Boy, I Saw the Devil, Irreversible), lately the revenge shtick has been solely a woman's world. Enter, American Mary. American Mary took this sub-genre by the balls and made it her bitch. Mary, played brilliantly by scream queen Katharine Isabelle, is transformed from a promising young surgeon into a ruthless, detached master of torture. Written and directed by the "twisted twins" Jen and Sylvia Soska, American Mary is a highly stylized, sexy, powerful movie that explores a world wherein the human body is a canvas - a canvas for self-expression, a canvas for artistic expression, and a canvas for therapeutic expression. The story and execution have the steady hands and precision of a master surgeon, which is what the creators of American Mary are in this instance. They have taken this body of genre, cut it open, modified its form, and created something beautiful.

Curse of Chucky

I'm just as surprised as you are, but Curse of Chucky is a pretty great horror movie. It's slick and creepy and at times, surprising, but most importantly it's fun. And it's a real change of pace for the Chucky series. It takes itself a little more seriously, focusing on the family characters instead of just making it the one man Chucky Show. Afterall, the Chuckys and Freddy Krugers of the horror world are a little outdated. The one-lining cheesy "monster" had its place in the '80s and '90s, and then we all grew up. And apparently, so did our monsters. If this is what we can expect from the new franchise of Chucky movies, I look forward to becoming a Chucky fan for the first time, ever. If not, well, then the Curse of Chucky was a happy accident.


Doll's 10 Honorable Mentions

The above ten movies were my favorites of the year based on overall quality of movie and enjoyment, but the following ten movies were standouts either personally, or for the genre in general. 

Contracted - Another popular subgenre this year has been the resurgence of body horror. Body horror is when the story revolves around the destruction or degeneration of the body. Whether it be from self infliction, mutilation, mutation, decay, infection or disease - body horror is generally some pretty disturbing stuff. Contracted was one of those movies wherein the ending changed the entire movie for me. It went from being a decent horror movie, albeit gross, to something visionary that turned a certain sub-genre on its head. It stuck with me longer than most.

Antiviral - Yet another body horror movie that was completely unique. In fact, it was so unique that I almost want to slap a sci-fi label on it as well. Antiviral succeeded in being both safe in its sterility, and then dangerous in its depravity. White walls to blood soaked floors. Pressed suits to torn flesh. And the societal musings on celebrity obsession took this pathetic preoccupation with stardom to a whole new level of crazy. A fantastically one of a kind movie. Did we expect less from the son of David Cronenberg? 

ABCs of Death - A fantastic anthology this year that took every letter of the alphabet and created a horror movie short around a word beginning with that letter. It was definitely a toss up between ABCs and VHS 2 for the anthology that made it into my top 10 this year. Ultimately ABCs failed to be strong enough all around, as for each letter there was a different writer/creator/director for that segment, and so quality was all over the place. D is for Dogfight and X is for XXL are the two among the 26 stories that really stood out for me. The latter still gives me chills when I think of it. 

Would You Rather - There's nothing too exceptional about this one except that it was a ton of fun to watch. Jeffrey Combs, who is a... what, scream king? is a big favorite of mine and I pretty much make it a point to watch everything he pops up in. Lately the quality of horror movies he's picking is lackluster so I was pleased that he not only made a good choice with Would You Rather, but that he also got to play such a great evil villain. Because, well, he's so damn good at it.

You're Next - Ok, I admit, I had high expectations for this one based on how great the trailer was. The trailer goes for scary as hell, whereas the movie goes for bloody black comedy. I was surprised. But once I readjusted my expectations, You're Next proved to be a smartly written, well executed, great movie that ends very, very bloody. 

Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh - This is one of those movies that seeps through the cracks of your subconscious and meanders there like a shadow for days. Saturated with atmosphere Last Will is a testament to just how scary a movie can be built on tension alone. But you have to have the patience to sit through such an incredibly slow burn. The movie is all about quietly creepy things happening slowly. Watch it alone and with the lights off.

Texas Chainsaw - Just what the world needed, another Texas Chainsaw Massacre movie. But guess what, chainsaws are terrifying. Have you ever been chased by a man with a chainsaw before? Because I have. Granted, I'm pretty sure he wasn't going to kill me (the haunted corn maize people would have probably fired him for that) and I'm pretty sure there wasn't a chain on the chainsaw (but I can't be positive), but it was dark and I was in a cornfield and this maniac jumped out at me with a roaring chainsaw and it got so close to my leg that I felt the air from the weapon push through my jeans. So I ran, screaming. And he chased me. Chased me through the goddamn cornfield with a fucking chainsaw. It was terrifying. And exhilarating. Anyways, the point is, a dude with a chainsaw never stops being scary. And Texas Chainsaw (a prequel) is a terrifically fun teen scream that gives us a little history on our favorite skin-wearing psycho.

I Spit On Your Grave 2 - And yet another revenge movie. I told you they were popular this year. But whereas Black Rock was understated and American Mary was stylish, I Spit On Your Grave 2 was just fuck-you-in-the-face brutal. Extremely difficult to watch to the point where you almost want to turn it off because, why am I watching this again? for fun? I'm so fucked up. But despite the intense level of depravity, it's actually a good horror movie. Great performances, a creative story, and a slick production - I guess if you're going to make a horrific horror movie you'd better make it a damn good one. Otherwise you're just a creepy perv.

Hatchet III - Granted, the Hatchet movies are for the gore hounds, no question about it. But they're not made without humor, which just makes them gross and fun. And the kill scenes (who knew you could skin people like that?) are just sickly creative. I wasn't in love with the first Hatchet movie when I first saw it, but two sequels later and Victor Crowley has definitely won me over.

All The Boys Love Mandy Lane - Made in 2006 Mandy Lane premiered in various film festivals throughout 2006 and 2007. I first read about the movie in one of Rue Morgue's issues that covers the horror festival circuit. They spoke highly of the Mandy Lane so I added it to my list of movies to watch for. And there it remained for seven years. Due to the movie's distributor going bankrupt and the rights to the movie being tied up with all of that, Mandy Lane sat on the shelf until the red tape cleared and someone else could repurchase the release rights. So imagine my surprise when it popped up on Amazon On Demand a few months ago. The long-lost Mandy Lane, finally in my living room. And the movie didn't disappoint. Granted, it's no game changer, but it's a tight little teen scream (giggity) with some gruesome kills and surprise twist ending that left a big smile on my face. All the girls love Mandy Lane, too.


In my extensive research of other "best of" horror movie lists for 2013 I came across many repeated titles, some of which I hadn't yet seen and some of which I didn't quite agree with. Here's the top 10 titles that made other lists in this gruesome little community of ours.

My Amityville Horror
Escape From Tomorrow
The Battery
Bad Milo
We Are What We Are

So there you have it. The consensus for the best horror movies to hit the screen in 2013. Now, turn out the lights and get to watchin'.