Good morning, horror fiends. It’s that time of year again. Time for film fans to pause and reflect on the bland emotional blackmail from the year before. Time to obsess over hideous dresses. Oh yes. I speak of Oscar season! Although Final Girl Support Group will be cheering for Uggie the dog and bitching about snubs along with the rest of the film community Sunday, we need to honor the films of last year in our own way. In a 2-part series, we would like to present the best in horror from 2011; starting with our favorite films.
The Lucky 13: The Best Horror of 2011
Although we occasionally get press perks and are lucky enough to live near some festivals, we can’t make it to everything. We’re usually at the mercy of U.S. release dates for great foreign films too. That said, selections are limited to our experience and are listed alphabetically to avoid the pain of indecision.
StayFrosty: Low budget filmmaking usually calls to mind (with some notable exceptions) poor CGI, fair to poor acting, and bland storylines we’ve seen a hundred times before. And then there’s Absentia, a movie that takes the little money it has and runs with it, creating an effectively scary, well written and well shot film that Hollywood wished it still understood. Absentia proves that you don’t need millions of dollars to make a good movie.
Jenny Dreadful: With a low budget and a horrendous DVD cover (such a crime), this is a film genre fans are likely to miss. If you like supernatural horror, ignore cover art, turn off the lights and go in with an open mind. The skilled use of focus and clever practical effects make for a very creepy experience. We adore this film.
2. Black Death
crowbait: After the disappointment of Season of the Witch and the misleading advertisement this film was a delight. Unflinchingly brutal and with a story that took twists and turn to keep it above the “typical” witch hunt, it is highly recommended.
StayFrosty: I rewatched this a few days ago, fearing it might not be as good as I remembered. On the contrary, I think it might have been even better than I recalled. What I most noticed this time around was the excellent casting choices. The members of Sean Bean’s team all felt very natural together, had great chemistry, and naturally fit within the environment. The creepy town – and especially our leading lady – remain unsettling and the ending still packs a punch without being too typical. Repeat viewings only make this one stronger.
3. Hobo with a Shotgun
Jenny Dreadful: I said quite a bit about this crazed throwback already. See the link above for my pretty lengthy review. Despite its grim subject matter, I’d name it among the most fun blood-fests of the year. That may be because this list is depression central (and boy is it ever), but I think Hobo is colorful, wonderful madness.
4. In a Glass Cage
StayFrosty: This movie is deeply disturbing, tackling issues like child molestation, Nazis and revenge. If I had to classify it as anything, I would say it’s essentially a rape/revenge movie dealing with the cycle of abuse. It’s also stunningly beautiful (there’s a giallo-homage scene that floored me with its cinematography and color use), wonderfully acted and isn’t afraid to take on these issues up front. Nothing is black and white, everything is gray. There’s no side you can take that makes sense, and no safe place your mind can land. And that’s what makes it so great. Have a chaser movie ready though, because you’ll need it.
Jenny Dreadful: I was hesitant to consider this film eligible since it’s a release from the 80s, but we decided a beautiful new print making rounds at festivals and an impressive new DVD/Blu-Ray warrants breaking the rules a little. One of the strongest films I watched last year. I say plenty more at the link above.
StayFrosty: It’s hard to pick a top of the year, because there are so many beautiful, disturbing films that stick with you long after the credits roll. But I think in the end I would choose Insidious over all of those, because Insidious reminded both the viewing public and the Hollywood system that you don’t need CGI, quick cuts and cat scares to make an effective horror film. James Wan uses atmosphere and implied terror to keep the audience on the edge of their seats. Wan has shown that even when his movies aren’t perfect (Dead Silence, anyone?) he can still create amazing atmospheric setpieces, and he does the same with Insidious, except this time it works on all levels. And I appreciate that the ending isn’t just a closed book. It’s a throwback to films like Poltergeist, and I mean that as a compliment. If I can be scared watching Lyn Shaye stare at a ceiling fan and speak under her breath about something evil, the movie is a success. Hollywood, please take note – this is how it’s done.
Jenny Dreadful: I can’t consider this the best film of the year, but it might be my favorite. A spooky haunted house-style flick made for watching in the dark and huddling with friends. Scary and fun.
6. I Saw the Devil
Jenny Dreadful: This disturbing cat-and-mouse thriller from Korea tops a good number of year-end lists from horror critics and fans alike. This is for good reason. Absolutely beautiful visuals, shocking brutality, fascinating performances, and jaw-dropping action sequences make this is a must-watch for any genre fan with the stomach for cruelty and violence.
7. Kill List
crowbait: I think I’ve seen more strange twists in recent British horror films than I have in any others. What starts out as the “workaday” world of a soldier turned contract killer becomes a strange mystery and semi-crusade against despicable criminals before descending into horror as an unexplained coven comes to pursue the protagonist as fervent worshipers. An odd one, not for everyone but well made and worth it if you find the premise intriguing.
Jenny Dreadful: Although I’m loathe to define such an interesting film with comparison to another, the best way to efficiently describe Kill List is “Hitman movie meets The Wicker Man.” I agree with crowbait that some viewers will be turned off by a conclusion that seems to come from nowhere, but I feel the creeping dread is there all along; building toward the disturbing turn. I suspect it’s one to watch twice. If you go in with an open mind and the knowledge that genres will clash in strange ways, I think you’ll be surprised by a solid and scary flick.
StayFrosty: What a gorgeous, gorgeous movie. Gorgeous and upsetting and overwhelming and like nothing I’ve experienced. It takes the cycle of depression and anxiety within two despairing souls (effectively reflected in the characters played by Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg) and blows it out to interstellar proportions, with planets literally representing the emotional states of the two sisters. The movie was dismissed from the Oscars on a technicality, despite sweeping up wins in almost every other awards show to date. The Oscars are less for not having this movie on their roster.
Jenny Dreadful: Those who are close to me might find that I talk about this film constantly. As you may guess, Melancholia is my pick for the best of 2011. Frosty did a good job with condensing the film effectively into a short summary. Fitting everything I have to say about this beautiful and devastating piece in a concise way is impossible. I’m going to need to write a full review. I will say that, from the heart-breaking realism of the performances to the breathtaking and surreal visuals, the film’s absence from the list of Oscar nominees is a crime.
9. Red, White & Blue
StayFrosty: This is a hard movie to take, and definitely not for everyone (I find we’re saying that on so many of our choices this year). Excellent performances all around, keeping all the characters as gray areas. No heroes here, just lost, lonely, sometimes violent people trying desperately to find someone or something that can help them begin to heal. While not precisely a “twist” ending, the final moments of this film stays with you.
10. A Serbian Film
StayFrosty: This is a seriously depressing list, but we can’t leave out this movie, even though it’s been called all sorts of names. JennyD and I watched this, and while it does deal with some shocking and upsetting topics, it’s shot beautifully and the “shocking” moments feel in service to the story (with one potential exception). Our lead actor does a great job keeping a character committing a series of vile acts sympathetic. He’s a victim as much as the people he’s victimizing. Is this movie hard to watch? You better believe it. But is it just a series of trashy, misogynistic, disgusting images made for shock and nothing else? I don’t think so. I was more offended by Doghouse than I was by this movie.
Jenny Dreadful: Agreed. As we’re a feminist blog, I think it’s easy to assume we’d hate this film based on the subject matter and the controversy it stirred. A Serbian Film is too smart, too beautifully shot, too well-scored, and too emotionally affecting to be dismissed as trash. Don’t necessarily take this as a recommendation. If you think you’re up for this bleak film, do a little research first.
11. The Silent House
crowbait: The hour-long takes of this film build a relentless tension. It’s surprising as well how much the characters can be developed in such a short span without becoming unbelievable but the story is really one of revelation as secrets are peeled away in the house of horrors. There are so many “how did they do that?” camera moments in this film, it’s worth seeing on a technical level even if you aren’t a fan of hauntings.
crowbait: A vampire western, through and through. The vamps are full-on monsters and the heroes are a lone wanderer and his apprentice. They travel the land looking for some place safe from the apocalypse but it’s more a journey of growth and a coming of age story for the young apprentice.
13. Tucker & Dale vs Evil
StayFrosty: Thank god this movie came out this year, or our entire list would be incredibly depressing. We reviewed it for 31/31 here, but just to remind everyone, it’s hilarious and clever and sweet and gory. All of these things.
Jenny Dreadful: Sweet likable characters and increasingly silly coincidences keep this joke from getting old. Lots and lots of fun.
There you have it, readers. Our favorite genre films of 2011. Agree? Disagree? Tell us your picks. Meanwhile, look out for Awards Season Part 2. It’s time to get a little more specific.