There’s been grumbling that 2012 marked a down year for horror. It’s true that wide release horror had a bit of a downturn. Cinemas went months without a tentpole horror release and the larger studios seemed content to sit out the summer blockbuster season and cede the busiest movie going time of the year to superhero flicks.
Scratch below the surface and it’s easy to note what a banner year it’s been for genre films. The new means of distribution allowed for smaller movies to reach more eyeballs while the sheer number of filmcentric sites and social media avenues allowed smaller, limited release films to gain as much attention and conversation as mass market productions with craft service budgets larger than the independents total cash on hand. Direct-to-video used to relegated to inferior films looking to cash in on the trends of the day. In 2012 some of the best films hit video on demand outlets via iTunes or Amazon before making their way to a limited number of theaters. No doubt the home release strategy benefited from the continued dwindling prices in large flat screen panels, the proliferation of HDTV (in my humble opinion, it’s difficult to make HD look bad, you can only make it look better) along with massive improvements in wireless streaming services. Also, for as long as theater chains not named the Alamo Drafthouse fail to improve the cinema experience with overpriced concessions and turning a continued blind eye to texting, talking and tweeting, watching new releases at home will continue to look like a more attractive avenue.
One note for readers regarding the release dates of some of the picks (including my top choice). I used the date a movie became widely available in the United States as my barometer as opposed to the date it was available either overseas or through limited festival runs. There are two picks on my list that would have placed high on the charts in past years if they were available in the US at the time.
In short, those disappointed in this year’s genre releases should be hard pressed to argue it’s been a good year when terrific entries like It’s In The Blood, The Bay, Excision and The American Scream are only good enough to warrant an honorable mention.
10a. PARANORMAN The first of three animated horror-themed films geared towards kids in the fall was also the strongest (Hotel Transylvania and the under seen Frankenweenie followed close behind). The stop motion is stunningly beautiful and as much of a punching bag 3D has become, when it is as well executed as it here, it adds an incredible sense of depth to the picture. Paranorman touches on a treasure trove of references for longtime horror fans ranging from classic late night B-movies to the Salem Witch Trials to zombies and ghosts all without feeling too on the nose or winking. Paranorman also refuses to dumb down its story for children and it offers up one of the most touching and heartbreaking climaxes committed to screen this year that gives parents lots to talk about with their children long after the ending. There seemed to be a mini rebirth of family friendly horror this year with Paranorman leading the way.
10b. SOME GUY WHO KILLS PEOPLE This could have been generic fluff stuffed with one note characters easily dismissed and forgotten before the end credits started to roll. Instead it provides a host of outstanding performances led by one of the great “that guy” working actors of today in Kevin Corrigan’s tortured soul desperate to make a connection with his estranged daughter. Barry Bostwick has a blast and mines the biggest laughs with his role as the town sheriff that would have been a nincompoop in a lesser film, instead of a surprisingly competent public servant with a backbone. SOME GUY WHO KILLS is a slasher film that has a lot of heart and a lot of Chutzpah, and it should be a bigger deal than it is. (Mike’s Original Review)
10c. THE WOMAN IN BLACK Hammer’s adaptation of Susan Hill’s chilling ghost story signaled both the return of the revered studio to the gothic horror they mastered in their heyday and that Daniel Radcliffe has the chops for a career long past his Hogwarts days. Moody, atmospheric and capping off with a hell of a downbeat ending, the only thing that kept TWiB from jumping higher on the list was an over reliance on “stingers” in order to jolt the audience. The best bits of the film consist of a nervous Radcliffe wandering the not-quite abandoned mansion armed with a flickering candle with the only sounds consisting of the creak of floorboards under his foot. (Mike’s Original Review)
9. THE AGGRESSION SCALE The concept is so simple you have to wonder why it hasn’t been done more often. Equal parts Home Alone and First Blood, Steven C Miller’s The Aggression Scale is a fist pumping blast to watch. Added bonuses come from a Twin Peaks reunion of sorts with Ray Wise and Dana Ashbrook having prominent roles and the revelation of Derek Mears’ (Friday the 13th reboot) comic chops. Imagine a live action Wile E. Coyote cartoon if the Roadrunner were a mute psychopath that racked up double digit kills before getting his first short and curlies and you have a good idea for what is in store. (Mike’s Original Review)
8. SLEEP TIGHT It says all you need to know about Luis Tosar’s performance that despite knowing the wicked deeds his Cesar is responsible for, you can’t help but root for him to get away with his devious plans. I found myself letting out long sighs of relief when this wicked concierge pulled the wool over another fool’s eyes and lived to scheme and plot another day. Make no mistake, Jaime Balaguero’s home invasion thriller walks a very fine line between the comic and terrifying, veering towards the latter as Cesar takes drastic steps to cover his tracks, and the randomness and sheer meanness of his plan starts to come to light. (Mike’s Original Review)
7. THE LIFE & DEATH OF A PORNO GANG This is the other Serbian Film. The plot is right there in the title. Set during the final days of Milosevic’s government, GANG follows a young director hellbent on making important political films that winds up shooting pornography instead. Determined that he’s due for greater things, he takes his sex troupe on the road, putting on live shows in the tiny villages that dot the country’s landscape when out of the blue they’re approached with an opportunity to make snuff films starring people that want to commit suicide, but want their stories told first. This is one of the most bizarre and disturbing films that came my way this year, and I’m still trying to soak it all in and process it for a proper review. It played the festival circuit ion 2010, but just became available on DVD/Blu Ray in the US earlier in the fall. If you’re one of those jaded types who claim to have seen it all before, I can assure you that you’ve never quite seen a film like this one.
6. WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN Lynne Ramsey’s adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s novel is one that spoke to my two biggest fears as a young parent. First, what if I have to give up too much of myself in order to be a good parent and it makes me resentful towards my child, and what if she senses that at becomes an adversary? Second, what if despite all my best intentions my child just turns up evil. KEVIN examines the adversarial relationship between parent and child. Tilda Swinton is outstanding, never more so during the present day scenes where she shambles from day to day, hefting around survivor’s guilt and a sack load of “what ifs?”In the wake of the Newtowne tragedy, the film is all the more difficult to revisit, yet it could be one of the most important ones of the year. (Chris’ Original Review)
5. KILL LIST Ben Wheatley’s story about an ex-assassin lured in for one more score will mess with your head and is the spiritual successor to The Wicker Man. Wheatley cleaves his film into equal parts domestic drama crime thriller and mind bending horror. I’ve watched this film three times and despite having a greater appreciation for the film with each subsequent viewing, I’m still struggling to figure out who knew what and when when they knew it. The violence in Kill List is sparse, yet when it shows up, it holds nothing back, resulting in one of the grisliest, most stomach turning moments of the year. If you’re looking for something that is both challenging and entertaining, look no further. (Mike’s Original Review)
4. CABIN IN THE WOODS 2012 was the year that mainstream America finally caught on to the genius that is Joss Whedon. The trailer hinted at the basic conceit: All the cliched actions and piss poor decisions we ruminate over in horror films are due to the men behind the curtain pulling the strings. Yet nothing could have prepared audiences for the insanity of the third act. When events move underground for good, I stopped trying to “figure out” where things were headed and fell in love with not having the slightest fancy as to where things would head next. Cabin managed the rare feat of poking fun at the genre without making fans feel stupid for loving it. Also on the plus side-who can resist the charms of a well organized white board? NO ONE that’s who! (Mike’s Original Review)
3. [REC] 3 The third installment in the much admired Spanish horror series could have taken the easy route and delivered an identical film to the first two and fans would have eaten it up. Credit Paco Plaza for pulling a one-eighty and both dropping the found footage angle fifteen minutes in and for shifting the tone of the series. Where the first two films existed solely to make audiences soil their pants in terror, [REC] 3 is an over the top splatter extravaganza that has more in common with Evil Dead 2 or Dead Alive than its sister films. Toss in an iconic leading lady that can wield a chainsaw and rock a wedding dress and you have one hell of a fun movie. (Mike’s Original Review)
2. SINISTER I like to describe this film as horror with it’s big boy pants on. Where most wide release genre fare waters itself down in order to appeal to as broad an audience as possible (whether it be by shooting for a PG-13 rating or trying to hit as many niches as possible) Sinister seemed squarely aimed at an older crowd. While the Boogie Man bits don’t always work, the jarring material contained in those 8mm canisters more than make up for it. Ethan Hawke’s turn as a true crime author desperate for another best seller is a fascinating examination of how prolonged exposure to violent material can get under your skin. (Mike’s Original Review)
1. THE LOVED ONES This Australian flick (released in its homeland in 2009) deserved a far better stateside fate than it received. Paramount snapped up the distribution rights to the film, dumped an edited version of the film onto TUGG, meaning potential fans had to buy tickets ahead of time for even a chance to see the film, then dumped it on to DVD (no blu ray) with no fanfare. Still, the incredible word of mouth for the film ensured by year’s end a lot of people were singing the praises of a film that imagines what a John Hughes coming of age film might look like Ally Sheedy’s character in The Breakfast Club decided to stick a shiv in Emilio Estavez’s jock character instead of suck face with him. There hasn’t been a character that made wide eyed psychosis as hot as Robin McLeavy since Angela Bettis in May. Despite knowing she’s just as likely to use a power drill on a lover’s scrotum as she is to kiss him, there’s something so desirable about her that I just want to cover her in honey and myself in peanut butter and then roll around a padded room with her (too much?). While there’s a lot of torture going on here (no really, there’s a TON of it) it doesn’t feel gratuitous or exploitative. Mostly, THE LOVED ONES feels like a truckload of fun, and should be on the top of any horror fan’s “gotta see it” list. (Mike’s Original Review)