Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Top 10 BEST Horror Films of 2011

I think 2011 was another great year for our beloved genre. Even theatrically released films offered a glimmer of hope and made us think that maybe, just maybe, the remake train was slowing down. OK, that may not be happening just quite yet but if anything there were some positives to take from what was being rolled out in multiplexes.

Indie films continued to be where it's at: pushing boundaries, challenging conventions and putting new spins on some tired tropes. This year may prove to be even better than last in terms of quality content and the number of films which were picked up by well-known distributors.

It was extremely difficult to narrow it down to just 10. There are lots of honorable mentions that are just as much worthy of your time and attention. Without further ado, here are my top 10 best horror films from the past year.

Note: not all of these films were released this year as some were just made available stateside or they are still awaiting distribution.

10. The Bleeding House

A family looking to start anew in a small town out in the middle of Nowheresville, USA, is slowly revealed to be harboring some dark secrets. Initially, not a whole lot is known about what it is they're actually hiding. But everything is brought out into the open when an unexpected visitor, sporting some white threads from head to toe and speaking in a distinct southern drawl, comes knocking on their door. At first unassuming and charming, he soon reveals his true nature and intentions. The Bleeding House is a great psychological/home invasion thriller.

9. Fugue

A woman having recently been released from the hospital and into the care of her husband, finds herself having nightmarish visions and a supernatural haunt that doesn't want her in the new home they just moved into. This spirit becomes more and more aggressive towards her as it becomes enraged daily by her continued presence. But things move from the supernatural to the very real as we learn what actually happened to the woman and how she became injured. 'Inside' levels of brutality are unleashed as the film reaches its nerve racking climax.

8. Black Death

Set to the backdrop of the Bubonic Plague, Black Death tells the story of a young monk, tasked with leading a group of mercenaries out to the English countryside to investigate claims of a necromancer rising the dead. Along the way they have to contend with rogues which are far less of a nuisance than what they'll ultimately encounter. Upon reaching a village, they come into contact with a beautiful enchantress and come under the same spell that she's placed on it. A test of faith ensues between all, clergy and mercs alike. And just when they think they've gained the upper hand and won, it appears that she's badly skewed their perception of reality. This is one fantastic slab of gothic horror.

7. TrollHunter

TrollHunter is proof positive that the found footage/faux documentary style of filmmaking can still be fun, fresh and inventive. A group of documentary filmmakers set out to document bear killings in the Norwegian countryside. Little do they know that the actions are all a part of a coverup. They come into contact with a man who is believed to have more information about what's going on. But he soon describes the true reason of his work: to keep the world from knowing about the existence of Trolls. Some jaw dropping CGI on display here and it's remarkable for such a low budget affair. Overall, TrollHunter is a lot of fun and a sure-to-be cult classic.

6. Insidious

Finally, a haunted house film that's actually scary. A young boy is found to be unconscious by his family one morning and despite a myriad of tests, the doctors can't pinpoint the cause of his comatose state. His house appears to be under some sort of supernatural attack but how and why his home (and him in particular) is such a focal point makes for an interesting take on this well-worn sub-genre. A genuinely scary film with one of the best soundtracks to grace a horror film in recent memory.

5. Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil

Taking the 'Kids go out into the cabin in the middle of the woods' trope and completely twisting it around, Tucker and Dale is now one of my all-time favorite horror comedies. A group of kids head out to a cabin and become creeped out by of a pair of hillbilly buddies who live nearby. When one of their friends goes missing, they become prime suspects. But all they want to do is fish and drink beer and in the case of the fatter of the two, he wants to find true love. Hilarity ensues as the kids go on a rescue mission and actually become their own worst enemies and each one of them meets their untimely demise by their own hands. Tucker and Dale is laugh out loud funny. And it has plenty of gore and grue to boot.

4. Ghost From The Machine (AKA Phasma Ex Machina)

A young man, still incredibly consumed by the death of his parents, becomes obsessed with bringing them back from the dead. So much so, that he spends his days and nights devising a machine that will do so. Despite losing the affections and attention of the remaining loved ones that support him, he persists with his singular goal. After many failed attempts, he finds success and starts bringing other spirits back, ones he did not intend on. In the heartbreaking process, he learns that not all things are meant to have another life. One of the most emotional horror films I've seen all year.

3. The Innkeepers

Another haunted house film that's actually scary, The Innkeepers focuses on two hotel employees who are seeking to document the existence of a residential haunt on the last weekend of business for the storied establishment. Not much is captured at first, but the haunt soon reveals itself both in creepy voice and in form. A new age-mystic type staying for the weekend confirms the haunt via a trance as well as its true intentions. Some well timed humor and jump scares, The Innkeepers is another fantastic film from one of my favorite new-er directors, Ti West.

2. The Bunny Game

This is the film that A Serbian Film wishes it could be: brutal, unrelenting but with (ultimately) a point. The film starts off with documenting a sort of 'day in the life of' a hooker on the streets of Los Angeles. From drugging up, to selling her services, to stopping briefly just to eat something before she self-medicates again, this is a picture painted of a vicious cycle. She eventually comes into contact with a truck driver who instantly drugs her and takes her out to the California desert where he proceeds to torture and completely shame her. A totally exhaustive experience (not just for the onscreen participant but also the viewer), it's eventually revealed that there is a purpose for the truck driver's madness. The most physically draining and burned into my brain horror film I've seen all year.

1. Absentia

A film that fantastically combines both the supernatural and the surreal, Absentia will be heavy in my re-watch rotation for years to come. A woman decides to stop the search efforts for her husband after years of looking for him with nary a trace, sign or reason for his disappearance. No one knows why he suddenly up and left one day. Moving into her home is her kid sister, a recovering addict who's looking to start over. On the kid sister's morning jogs, she makes her way through a tunnel which runs underneath a freeway and out to another thoroughfare. It's soon revealed that something inhabits the tunnel and has long pulled lives into its grasp. And when the woman's husband unexpectedly re-appears, after the point he's declared legally dead, this thing comes looking for him. Part supernatural thriller, part Lovecraftian monster tale, Absentia is a unique and classic piece of filmmaking.

Honorable mentions:

- I Didn't Come Here to Die
- Long Pigs
- Dream Home
- The Tunnel
- The Last Circus
- Scream 4
- Skew
- Exhibit A
- Undocumented
- Hobo With A Shotgun
- Paranormal Activity 3
- A Horrible Way to Die
- Kiss The Abyss

Cortez the Killer


The Man-Cave said...

Awesome list, Cortez! I too named Absentia as my favorite indie flick of 2011. It was just so engaging that I even think I texted you right afterwards to thank you for the recommendation. Even non-horror fans I showed this to love this flick. Glad you mentioned IDCHTD.

Side note - Just got Tucker and Dale this week so I can't wait to check that out.

Happy New Year's, amigo!

Mike Snoonian said...

Great list of films. It was a tough year in terms of trying to narrow down the field so I cheated and made two lists.

the jaded viewer said...

Awesome list CTK. I seem to not have been on that screener list for Absentia. Oh well.

Damn, The Bunny Game sounds freakin awesomelt f-uped.

I've got a lot of films to watch in 2011 it seems.

I always seem to have a hard time with my list. Moving things up and down.

Matt-suzaka said...

Nice list, homie! A lot of films I haven't had the chance to check out yet and many of them I will certainly be on the lookout for.

Spooky Vegan said...

Digging your list immensely, especially since The Bunny Game and Absentia are on there!

B-Movie Becky said...

This reads as a to-do list for me; still haven't seen a lot of these. :) Thanks for compiling (I know how hard it can be to finalize just ten)

Dod said...

What a great list this is!

I'm absolutely setting out to see all the ones I haven't seen off this list.

Waxdude said...

Am I the only one who hated "Insidious"? Seems I am. I just do not get the hype for this movie- but oh well. Maybe it's just me...

Planet of Terror said...

Fantastic responses everyone. I hope you enjoy some of these as much as I did.

@The Man-Cave, let me know what you think of it. Happy new year to you as well!

@Mike, CHEATER! Just kidding. Great list my man. And I like how you split up theatrical/wide release and screener/unreleased flicks. I may have to do that next year.

@Jaded Viewer, I think the filmmaker for Absentia was pulling back on the number of screeners he was sending out (due to finalizing distribution). I'll ping him and see if I can't get one sent your way.

@Matt, thanks. I know you had a pretty strong reaction to Insidious. Have you changed your mind at all?

@Spooky Vegan, many thanks!

@B Movie Becky, have you seen Tucker and Dale yet? Right up your alley for sure.

@Dod, let me know what you think once you start going down the line. I think Absentia is still available via VOD. I think Fugue is as well. The Bunny Game is still looking for the right distributor.

@Waxdude, no sir. Plenty of folks didn't like it. See Mr. Suzaka up top. For me it was the perfect blend of haunted house scares, more than a few passing nods to Poltergeist and the phenomenal soundtrack that won me over. I can't remember a horror film in recent memory with a soundtrack that was just so jarring. The end left a little to be desired but overall, a really great flick.

GenovaM9 said...

I am glad that you included Matt Osterman's film as it was a true unexpected gem. I do have to check out many of the other ones.

Matt-suzaka said...

I still do not really like Insidious. Actually, I never really hated it... when I watched it, a part of me loved the shit out of it, but another thought it was way over the top and overly hokey.

Unfortunately the dislike outweighs the like, but I do give the film credit for being genuinely scary and tense during certain scenes. It also looked and sounded fantastic, but alas lines like, "I call it the further!" make me want to slam my head into the wall!

I will re-watch it, though... and I am curious as to how I will react to it a second time around.

Planet of Terror said...

@GenovaM9, it truly is a gem. Let me know what you think about the other films if you get a chance or are able to check them out.

@Matt, I hear ya. It was a bit hokey in parts but so were films like Poltergeist. Are you a fan of that film? It definitely harkened back to that and had more than a couple of passing nods. The only gripe I had was the use of CGI and the Darth Maul-like demon scaling the walls at the end. So cartoony.

Let me know what you think about it after a second go around.

Kev D. said...

Great list... MAN, I can't wait to see "Troll Hunter".

Planet of Terror said...

Kev, thank you good sir. Get on that. It's currently available via Netflix streaming.

Eric said...

This list sounds cool as shit. I just watched The Tunnel based on the first paragraph of your review, and I have subsequently bookmarked the shit outta this blog. That was a great movie.
I'm looking forward to Absentia and Trollhunters.
Insidious I liked, except for all the parts I didn't like. Rose Byrne is always good, but as others mentioned lines like "...the further" and the demon sharpening his claws on a goddamn grind stone was just... oh man, they just didn't have to do that.