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

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Innkeepers (2011)

Fear 5/5
Gore 2/5
Entertainment 5/5
Creepiness 5/5

Rounding out my top 'must-see' list of 2011, The Innkeepers, alongside Insidious, is one of the best haunted house films released within the past decade. I hope a resurgence is coming within this sub-genre. If this film as well as the aforementioned are any indication, it is one still rife with fresh ideas and plenty of new ways to make us freak out about thumps and bumps in the night.

Claire and Luke are the caretakers of the Yankee Pedlar Inn, a storied hotel in a small, quaint, town. The pair are just as essential and vital to the story as the haunt for which the inn is known for. Luke is determined to get video evidence of the ghost, a woman who hung herself years ago on her wedding day when the groom ditched her at the altar. Claire is along for the ride and equally as eager (if a little skeptical). But their time is limited. You see, the inn is closing and the weekend is all the time that they have left. 

At first, the only guests are a woman and her son, staying for a few days after a marital spat. But then a couple of interesting characters show. First, an old TV actress who's now a new age mystic-type. Claire is fond of her and instantly star struck. Later, another guest (an old man) pays for one night and insists on a particular room  despite the fact that it's on a floor that's in the process of being torn down with rooms that are now very bare bones.

The pair conduct their ghostly investigations nightly and don't capture much at first. The inn, just like all great haunted house films, is a character unto itself. The classic kind, like the Overlook or the asylum in Session 9, one which adds just as much to the proceedings as the actual haunt and cast of characters themselves. Things soon get going as the requisite bumps and thumps are experienced and Claire begins to have terrifying nightmares. Or are they?

Claire seeks the guidance of the mystic and she in turn reaches out to the spirit to find out just what it is that they want. And it's not a happy message that's received as multiple spirits are revealed. Despite her warnings of not venturing into the basement of the inn, Claire and Luke do so anyways and come face to face with the inn's main attraction. Our film ends tragically as the spirit exacts her deadly revenge and makes it known, that, even though the doors are closing to the inn for good, she'll always be around.

With charming, funny and engaging characters, The Innkeepers is sure to be a classic entry into the haunted house sub-genre. Filmmaker Ti West is phenomenal at creating tension and pulling off genuine scares and they are in number here. Along with that, his slow burn approach is utilized here as well to great effect. I can't say enough about it and I'm glad I was able to see it before the year closed out.

You can check out The Innkeepers on various VOD services beginning on Dec. 30th.

Cortez the Killer

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Top 10 WORST Horror Films of 2011

I can't believe that I've never, in the history of this interweb-o-sphere blog, ever put together a list of worst horror films of the year. Crazy right? Especially considering the plethora of crap I've had to endure for your mild amusement.

These aren't oh-so-bad they're good films. Nary a redeemable quality is to be found. Even the most avid of fans would have a tough time sitting through these stinkfests. They're the types of films that give you a case of tourettes for an hour and a half or so. Films you only watch if maybe you're a masochist, lover of root canals, or enjoy-er of mud runs. In the nude. I suppose that's worse for a man than a woman. I digress.

Some of these weren't released this year as they're just now getting distribution (in the case of one, it was made in 2007!!). Without further ado, here are the top 10 ten worst, you-should-NOT-see-these-under-any-circumstances, horror films of the year.

10. Re-Cut

2011 was the year of the found footage flick on this here blog. I saw a ton of them. Most of them were bad. Consider Re-Cut one of the worst.

A pair of student filmmakers drag a local news reporter out to a small town and farm that has a checkered past. Despite many a 'don't go there' warnings, they head to the farm and find a creepy school room with scripture passages written on the walls. Is it a cult? Some sort of whacked out Jesus loving freaks a la Red State? After a long and unbelievably dull affair, it's nothing but a pair of overall wearing, drunken rednecks. Lame-o-matic.

9. The Absent

A slasher that doesn't get to slashing until the 2nd act. A brother who's estranged twin is back after years of being locked up in the cuckoo house for killing his mother and stepfather (for reasons undisclosed). Non-wacko brother, who's a teacher at a local high school, sees his students get picked off one by one. Said students are plug and play and of the garden variety. Teacher brother and wacko brother are revealed to be one in the same! Zzzzzzzzzzzz........

8. I Spit On Your Grave

Completely ignoring what made the original so great and not creating any real tension or drama, this is the worst remake I saw this year.

7. The Perfect House

The Perfect House is an anthology film that contains absolutely no point to any of its stories, the thinnest of motives behind each serial killer tale, along with some of the most unintelligible dialogue from any film I've seen this year. Truly godawful in every way possible. 

6. Kids Go To The Woods....Kids Get Dead

The name says it all. This is every horror cliche you've ever seen times a gajillion. A GAJILLION I SAY! Why do filmmakers continue to make films like this?

5. A Serbian Film (aka Srpksi Film)

CONTROVERSY! This film has absolutely no redeeming qualities whatsoever. It's not artistic. There is no underlying meaning or theme here to be found. This is an exploitation flick being 'sold' to you as art. Never mind the fact that the situation of our lead is never really painted to be that dire that he needed to revert back to an extreme form of his old ways just to put food on the table. A vile, terrible, irredeemable piece of work.

4. The Haunted Casino 

A group of college age kids travel out to Sin City to renovate an old casino that was left to one of them in a will. They find out that it's haunted. By two spirits (Sid Haig and Michael Berryman collecting paychecks) who claim to be owed a treasure that was stolen from them by the uncle of the kid who inherited the joint. Why the fuck would two spirits give a shit about some lost treasure? Why should you give two shits about this film? Exactamente!

3. Ninjas vs. Vampires

No explanation needed.

2. The Haunting at The Beacon

A mourning-the-loss-of-their-young-son couple move into an old apartment complex and soon find it to be haunted. A paper mache'd masked being (no, I'm not kidding) that resembles a bastardized version of Pinhead roams the hallways. An odd cast of characters live in the complex including a bizarre superintendent. The film never really gets to a point with no less than three subplots running at any given time. You get bored to tears. Everyone in the building is revealed to be mythical demons. The end.

1. Creature

Completely uninspired and riddled with cliches, Creature isn't just bad because it fantastically failed at the box office. It contains trite characters that have been done 1,000 times over, a local 'legend' that is much to close to comfort to the one in Hatchet, and it also contains some of the worst editing I've ever seen in a film (hello really bad 'I can't tell what the hell happened' ending). Not to mention, the vast majority of kills occur off screen. To top off this shit sandwich with a rotten olive, the filmmaker was a big ol' baby and lashed out at us eCritics despite the fact that he proactively doled out screeners like dollar bills at a strip joint (click here for details).

(Dis)honorable mentions:

- Daylight
- Sweatshop
- The Ward
- Wake The Witch
- Respire

Cortez the Killer

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Chillerama (2011)

Fear 0/5
Gore 4/5
Entertainment 2/5
Creepiness 0/5

Chillerama is an anthology horror film and despite the level of talent associated with it, it's pretty mediocre. And it contains one of the worst anthology segments I've ever seen.

Our wrap around story involves the projectionist at a local drive-in theater who decides to dig up the rotting corpse of his ex-wife. He does so and before he can defile the body, she bites down on his no-no area and his groin begins to bleed profusely. This can't be good. He has to work in an hour!

Showing up at work, we learn that it's the last night of business for this beloved local spot. Despite his bleeding and some strange ooze coming out of his man region, he fires up the projector. On with the show!

Our first story involves a man who has some bedroom performance issues. His good doctor, gives him an experimental serum that's supposed to increase mail hormone production. But instead of doing just that, anytime he sees a woman and is arosed, his man parts go all haywire and a single, mutated, large teeth sporting super sperm grows and needs to be subsequently 'released.' After properly disposing of one of the mutated sperm, he has no luck with the second and it goes on a rampage through town. Some OK b-movie goodness here (Eric Roberts popping up in a brief cameo) with a jizz soaked ending to boot. Not great, just kinda 'meh.'

*Full disclosure before I get into the 2nd segment. I fucking loathe musicals. Like I'd rather jam a 12 inch. dildo into my ear hole than sit through one.*

The 2nd story involves a teenage boy who's a well regarded student athlete and who also happens to be harboring a secret: he's gay. While out on a school retreat, he comes into contact with a biker gang of gay werewolves. They bite him, he becomes one, and endless upon endless musical numbers that are grating and totally unfunny are performed. As a matter of fact, the whole of this segment isn't funny or entertaining in the slightest. It was enough to take me out of the experience and make me wish this thing was over already. It was that bad.

The film limps onward to the next segment, the best of them all (this really should have been released as a short film). Adam Green's segment, The Diary of Anne Frankenstein is a hoot, hilarious from start to finish. Hitler finds Anne Frankenstein's memoirs which contain the experiments of her grandfather. Hitler uses them to create a super soldier but instead, he unwittingly builds a super Jew! Hilarity ensues during a final standoff.

The film concludes with the wrap around segment. The projectionist's ooze infects the patrons and they all become sex crazed zombies. Some decent gore here but this too drags on and after about the 3rd or 4th zombie rape scene, it just became too much. Chillerama is a decent enough idea but overall, just really terrible execution.

Cortez the Killer

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Daylight (2010)

Fear 0/5
Gore 2/5
Entertainment 1/5
Creepiness 0/5

In the history of this blog, I don't think I've ever read a synopsis quite like this. One which makes me exclaim (after watching the actual film) 'This totally does not deliver on what it promises.'

'A harrowing psychological thriller from a widely acclaimed filmmaker, Daylight pits a couple lost in America against a conniving gang of kidnappers, in David Barker's rigorous and personal re-imagining of the genre film. Despite its familiar genre elements, Daylight is different - a powerful, shocking piece of vigorous cinema, which fuses eroticism and tenderness with the harrowing weight of pregnancy and kidnapping. On their way to a wedding, Danny and Irene pick up a hitchhiker - throwing the film in the direction of the conventional rural kidnapper thriller. But with the skill of director David Barker and his miraculous cast and crew, Daylight emerges as much, much more than just another exploitation picture. Kidnappers Renny, Leo, and Murphy enact a bizarre and terrifying ritual of politeness, endowing such scenes as the passing of a bread knife at a kitchen table with a threat of ferocious violence - but also trust...'

Daylight is anything but what the synopsis would have you believe. It's an exercise in futility, an ultimately pointless affair not worthy of your time or attention. 

Our film centers around a young European couple who are visiting the good ol' U-S-of-A, driving through the American countryside while on their way out to a family wedding. We are treated to some vague inner monologue from the pregnant wife as she asks herself if she's married the wrong man. Talking to her husband aloud, she reassures him that he has nothing to worry about when they get to the festivities and he has to have a talk with her father. Why he's nervous is never fully explained.

So this couple (a presumably well-to-do one based on their Aston Martin rental), decides to stop and pick up a complete stranger walking along the roadside. The couple, and let's assume they've never driven through the American countryside before, decides to play the good Samaritan to a scruffy man wearing a mechanic's shirt. Logic gap aside, you can guess what happens next.

The stranger takes them by knife point out to a secluded house where there are two other men waiting. Our lead kidnapper immediately wants to kill the husband but his buddy or brother (relationships between the men are never fully explained) convinces him to spare his life as maybe he has some money. The husband responds that he does and that if one of them drives him out to their original destination, that by weekend's end, they'll have a sizable amount of money in their bank account. So after a little back and forth between the three men, they agree to let the man (who convinced the sparing of the husband's life) drive them out to meet up with the family.

After the man takes the husband out to meet up with members of his family, they hole themselves up in a nearby motel until one of the relatives shows up with the money. The remainder of our film involves the other two men and a lot of trite, superficial and exhausting dialogue between them and the wife. And nothing actually happens. No genuine tension is built. There is a little bit of feigned sexual tension but nothing ever feels on the verge of erupting. The wife, never really seems to feel all that scared or frightened and perpetually has an expressionless look. I don't know if it was the acting or the way the character was written. But it adds no depth or weight to the character and her situation whatsoever. And to really 'sell' a film like this, you have to empathize and fear for the life that's growing inside. At no point in the film did I care about any of the characters and the wife's dense and emotionless state certainly didn't help things.

So anyways, she uses mechanic guy's bizarre fascination with her pregnancy against him and in the only moment of real horror kills him. And here is where the film completely falls apart with one of the worst endings I've ever seen: she escapes the home despite the other brother (or friend) still being alive and he does nothing to stop her. No resolution is given as to what exactly happened to her husband who was tied up in the motel. And we're left with a final scene of her giving birth. That's it.

This film was absolutely exhaustive and not in a good way. It was completely devoid of any emotion, suspense, or true moments of horror. Any film that has to deal with kidnapping or home invasion must have those elements. Sadly, this film does not and it feels completely and utterly pointless.

Cortez the Killer

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Last Circus -- AKA Balada Triste de Trompeta (2010)

Fear 2/5
Gore 3/5
Entertainment 5/5
Creepiness 4/5

Well the year is winding down kiddos and I'm crossing the last remaining films off of my 'must-see' list. Cross another one off with the well received horror/dark comedy feature The Last Circus. Extremely bizarre but ultimately heartbreaking, it tells the story of a do-gooder, life-as-a-performing-clown guy, who wants nothing more than to carry on the family legacy and entertain little children.

Our film begins with a bit of history, featuring the sideshow antics of two clowns as they're entertaining kids literally in the middle of war as the Franco regime is in full swing in Spain during the 1930's. Their show is interrupted as a man is recruited by the rebel army himself, clown costume, face paint and all, given a gun and asked to storm a stronghold along with a group of other soldiers. With no choice but to comply and unleash his own clownish hell, he becomes a legend, defying the work of Franco's army but ultimately coming under capture.

His son, through it all, is unwavering in his devotion to his father. But the imprisoned father instructs him to strike out and make a life of his own, carrying out the tradition of the family as a performing clown. But there's only one problem: he's not very funny and due to the ordeals he's faced thus far in life, he is not properly equipped to play the role of the funny clown. Rather, he must play the role of its opposite, the sad clown which is meant to always be a sidekick but never the star of the show.

Fast forward a few years, and now we see the young man (named Javier) as he's taken the job of the sad clown with a local traveling circus. He comes under the instruction of a man that plays the role of the happy clown, with a lot of relish and bravado along with a mean hand. He's very particular about his act and he expects all to follow his way or to hit the highway. Javier, being the subservient type that he is, obliges and pledges his allegiance to him and the group at large.

Things for Javier soon come into question as he falls for the funny clown's girlfriend, a beautiful woman who's an artist of the high flying type. The funny clown is revealed to be a ruthless bastard in real life as well, a hardcore drunkard who flies off the handle at a moment's notice and has no qualms when it comes to putting his woman in check and throwing her across a room. Despite the fact that she knows it's a bad fit, she's addicted to the sex and spontaneity of her abusive boyfriend but has a soft spot for Javier, his kindness and the feeling of security that comes with being around him.

So by this time you're probably thinking to yourself 'What the hell does this have to do with horror?' Well Javier snaps one day, takes a musical instrument to the abusive happy clown's face and beats him so badly, that a miracle at the hands of the circus' animal doctor saves him and puts his face back together. Javier goes into hiding for awhile but eventually comes into contact with the same men who kept his father captive and a bit of vengeance is extracted. In the end, he eventually comes back into contact with the performer he'd fallen for. But a tragic ending occurs when he duels the disfigured boyfriend who refuses to relinquish his stranglehold on the woman.

Quirky, insane, funny, horrific, but ultimately entertaining, The Last Circus is a phenomenal piece of cinema. It has a lot of heart despite it's Greek-like tragedy quality and a not so happy ending.

You can currently check out the film via Netflix's streaming feature.

Cortez the Killer

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Atrocious (2010)

Fear 3/5
Gore 2/5
Entertainment 2/5
Creepiness 3/5

 Are you getting tired of reading reviews for found footage flicks? Well I'm not tired of watching them (not yet at least). So I hope you're not getting too burnt out. I promise this is the last review of the year to feature this style of film and more reviews for other types of films are in the pipeline. I can definitively say that 2011 is the year of the found footage flick. I think the total tally now is 17?! But I digress.

Atrocious starts similar to other films of this ilk: a pair of teens, a brother and sister, beg their parents to take them out to their old countryside home in search of an urban legend, hoping to document its existence. After much poking and prodding, the initially reluctant parents relent and come to admit that it'd be good to get away for awhile.

So as the legend goes, the young woman who haunts the countryside is either an angel sent to help guide you out of the woods if you're lost or a devil that shows you the wrong way out. Essentially, the path to your demise. She approaches you from behind and emits a soft whisper into your ear to gain your attention. Nicely dressed, the lost traveler immediately comes under her spell and can't help but follow her guide.

The family make their way out and quickly settle in. Dad leaves soon upon arrival as works comes a calling. Along with their younger brother and family dog, the pair of teens venture out into the surrounding woods and they find that the property is close to an intricate hedgerow of trees, a maze which they find themselves easily lost in. But because it's daylight, they eventually make their way out but not before they mark certain landmarks with chalk so they can find their way out when not much light is available.

The early goings of the film are long and drawn out as the pair of teens explore the area only to find nothing but a dried up well. Some creepy moments occur at night as the camera is left turned on and pointed out the window, focused on the driveway and the pathway that leads out to the maze. The dog, clearly having focused its attention on something, barks and paces nervously at the edge of the pathway.

Things pick up when the siblings play back some of their video and see a brief glimpse of a dark figure in the woods. Things escalate further when the family dog goes missing that night and the pair find him dead, gutted and thrown into the bottom of the well. Frightened, they run back to the house but not before they get lost in the maze. Eventually, they find each other and make their way back to the house utilizing the chalk marks they drew earlier.

Here's where tensions and anxiety mount: the skeleton of their little brother is found in the fireplace and mom is nowhere to be found. Thumps and bumps on walls and across the floor spook them, sending the girl into the kitchen to hide in the pantry and the brother runs upstairs and locks himself in one of the bedrooms. After some pounding on his bedroom door, he eventually opens it and finds that the coast is clear. He heads back downstairs, finding blood in the kitchen and a gash across the basement door. He heads downstairs and into the heart of the basement and its revealed to him who's killed the family. I won't spoil it but let's just say the film moves from the supernatural to the very real. And it makes absolutely no sense. None. What. So. Ever.

It'd be easy to call this probably the worst moniker ever to grace a film, making it primed for ridicule but Atrocious has it's moments. It's just that the ending is not fitting whatsoever compared to the whole of film. And that my friends makes this one serious dud.

Cortez the Killer