Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Steve's 2013 in Horror

2013 was a fairly disappointing year for horror cinema.  If inspiration is the lifeblood of the movie industry Hollywood needs a transfusion before it drops dead.  Remakes and sequels were once again the rule of thumb with the handful of original mainstream horror movies that saw a theatrical release being in most cases just as guilty of having an overwhelming whiff of been there done that about them.  Even The Conjuring which was arguably the best that Hollywood had to offer in 2013 felt like a re-tread of dozens of movies that have gone before.

Remakes and endless sequels have for some years now been a close to constant thorn in the side of the discerning horror fan.  Unfortunately the sheer number of un-discerning horror fans, the sort that lap up the sheer idiocy of the execrable Texas Chainsaw 3D and the bewilderingly titled The Last Exorcism 2 (shouldn’t the first movie have been called The Penultimate Exorcism then?), keep flocking to the cinema to feast their eyes on the latest empty-headed Hollywood blockbuster.  It’s a shite state of affairs but I should add that the antipathy I feel towards remakes and sequels isn’t all encompassing.  In 2013 I did glean some enjoyment from Evil Dead and Maniac while Jim Mickle's We Are What We Are makes my Top 10 (see below). On the sequel front Hatchet III was an energetic and thoroughly satisfying concluding chapter (until they decide to make Hatchet IV) to what has been one of the most wildly entertaining slasher franchises in decades.  It also makes my Top 10

So bearing all this in mind the smart horror fan chose to ignore the remakes and the sequels and the uninspired rehashes and looked instead towards the US indie horror scene or to foreign shores for their horror fix.  In light of the fact that many of the best genre movies of 2013 didn’t even get so much as a limited theatrical release the only way to see these films was by attending festivals or waiting patiently for them to make their way onto DVD, Blu-ray or one of the many on demand services such as Netflix or Amazon.  Like I said.  A shite state of affairs.

My Top 10 Horror movies of 2013 are as follows:

#1. Jug Face/The Battery

These two movies are both directorial debuts and are all the more remarkable for that.  I debated for some time which should take poll position and ultimately realised that when the merits of each are weighed up it was impossible for me to decide.  Both are stunning examples, not only of what can be achieved on a microscopic budget, but of the importance of an intelligent script which in both cases is brought to terrifying life by a supremely talented cast.  If you haven't seen either of these I urge you to add both to your list of New Year Resolutions.  It's a promise you will not regret keeping.  My review of Jug Face can be found here.

#2. Haunter

It's sad that Haunter, the latest directorial effort from Vincenzo Natali (Cube, Cypher), didn't see a decent theatrical release in 2013.  This clever movie comes on like a hybrid of The Others and South African author Lauren Beukes brilliant novel The Shining Girls.  With a stunning performance courtesy of Abigail Breslin (she's going places) and the terrifying presence of Stephen McHattie as The Pale Man this is strongly scripted and ultimately very moving example of mainstream horror done right.  It's released on DVD/Blu-ray in the US on February 11th with UK release hopefully hot on its heels.  I really hope this fantastic movie finds an audience at home.

#3. Sleep Tight

Sleep Tight is a movie stuffed full of scenes custom made to send a shiver up the viewer's spine. Set in a Barcelona apartment building it focuses on pretty, young tenant Clara (Marta Etura) who becomes the unwitting subject of doorman César's (a remarkable Luis Tosar) affections.  If this movie doesn't have you checking under your bed before you go to sleep nothing will.  A brilliant exercise in Hitchcock levels of suspense with which Spanish director Jaume Belaguero proves once again that he's capable of shifting gear from more typical horror fare such as the [REC] series (which I love) to something more sophisticated and in some ways much more scary. 

#4. The Conjuring

I mentioned in my intro that The Conjuring is a movie that is somewhat bereft of new ideas.  While that's true it is also a supremely entertaining example of the haunted house movie done right.  It may be somewhat reliant on cheap jump scares but with many of these moments successfully causing this hardened fright flick fan's heart to skip a beat I can't honestly put the movie down for doing what it set out to do and doing it very well indeed.  With an atmospheric setting, a cast of sympathetic characters who are impossible not to root for and great direction courtesy of horror maestro James Wan this was the one shining example of mainstream horror that really worked in 2013.

#5. You’re Next

You're Next surprised me.  It's not that I wasn't looking forward to it but I went in expecting a generic rehash of Ils and Strangers.  Instead, after a somewhat slow opening, I got a fast paced, incredibly enjoyable violence-fest complete with one of the most engaging final girl performances I've seen in some time courtesy of beautiful Australian actress Sharni Vinson (she's also in the new version of Patrick which despite my misgivings about remakes is actually good fun).  With You're Next director Adam Wingard definitely qualifies alongside the creators of Jug Face, The Battery and Resolution as one to watch.

#6. We Are What We Are

I still haven't seen Jorge Michel Grau's 2010 original (shameful, I know) but this remake courtesy of Mulberry Street/Stake Land director Jim Mickle is wonderfully grim.  Centering on a small town family with some dark and disturbing secrets the movie opens with the matriarch dying from a mystery illness.  From there on in the mystery at the core of this household unit , and as a consequence their unity, slowly unravels as they find themselves under scrutiny from both the law and a town coroner who's daughter went missing some years before.  Not quite as gripping as the epic Stake Land this is, however, yet more evidence that Mickle is a genre director of considerable talent.  Also on display are strong performances from all involved.  A dark gem.

#7. Resolution

Resolution is yet another stellar indie horror movie that cost buttons to make and sells itself on the strength of its script and and some clever ideas.  It's also the sort of movie that benefits from, at the very least, a second viewing because I challenge anyone to pick up on all the tiny little details scattered throughout this riveting exercise in slowly escalating dread first time round.  The movie also contains a couple of superb performances courtesy of Peter Cilella and Vinny Curran who are totally believable as lifelong friends.  Can't wait to see what directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead have up their sleeves next.  My review of Resolution can be found here.

#8. Byzantium

Byzantium sees director Neil Jordan return to the bloodsucker genre he so successfully mastered with his brilliant 1994 adaptation of Anne Rice's Interview With A Vampire.  The movie is once again an adaptation; this time from Moira Buffini's play A Vampire Tale.  Jordan is on excellent form here and with luscious cinematography, evocative art direction, an epic score and, most crucially, two very strong central performances courtesy of Saoirse Ronan and Gemma Arterton, Byzantium, though not without some minor flaws, is a sexy, violent and thoroughly riveting vampire epic.  Highly recommended.

#9. Hatchet III

I watched the three Hatchet movies back to back a few months ago and came out the other end with a big grin plastered across my face.  These are slasher movies with the volume turned up to 11.  Everything works the way it's supposed to.  Victor Crowley, the villain of the piece, is a remarkably imposing creation and when he goes to work on the multitude of victims that director B.J. McDonnel and writer/producer Adam Green line up for him the shit really hits the fan (along with blood, guts and grey matter).  Danielle Harris as Marybeth, the determined heroine of the piece, is absolutely brilliant and the sheer inventiveness of much of the carnage is something to behold.  Superb.

Also worth checking out are the following:

The American Scream - A fascinating documentary profiling three families who transform their houses into haunted house attractions for Halloween.  A fascinating and at times quite moving documentary.

The Bay - Who saw this coming?  A found-footage horror movies courtesy of Barry Levinson (Good Morning Vietnam, Rain Man, Toys).  What's even more surprising is how downright nasty it is at times.  Well worth checking out.

Would You Rather - Jeffrey Combs is one of the most reliably watchable genre actors around and, as I expected, he's brilliant in this nasty little indie gem.

Maniac - A remake...but one that brought some new ideas to the table.  For some the first person perspective was an annoying, unsuccessful gimmick.  For other (me included) it was refreshingly different.  Also worth mentioning...Elijah Woods was fantastic in this.

There are a number of movies I missed that I’m looking forward to catching up with as soon as I can make it happen.  Amongst these are Stoker, Big Bad Wolves, Antiviral and Willow Creek.  Expect reviews of each at some point within the next couple of months.

1 comment:

  1. I was actually properly freaked out by The Conjuring. I had quite a bit of trouble falling asleep for a few nights after watching it.
    I thought Haunter was great. Their situation did not bear thinking about, the kind of purgatory a believer would be terrified by.
    I just did a review of Byzantium yesterday on my blog. :) I thought it was bleak and beautiful.