Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Best of, Year One: It's a Clip Show! Sort of. Not really.

Let’s keep the 1-Year Anniversary Party alive with my compilation of the 22 best films I’ve watched and reviewed thus far. Why 22, you ask? Well, mostly because when I went through the archives, that was the count of movies I genuinely loved and seek to forcefully make others love as well. 
So without further adieu, here are 22 horror, sci-fi, and bloody good action flicks that made me thankful to have an Internet connection, Netflix subscription, library membership, and general lack of important things to do.
22. Dead End 
Refreshingly funny under-the-radar ghost story (of sorts) from 2003. It's Christmas Eve and one dysfunctional family is lost  on an eerie back road en route to the in-laws. The road trip sub-genre of horror is nothing new, but with sharp performances and a clever script, Dead End makes it well worth the revisit.
21. Carriers 
2009’s most unfairly shafted thriller, a surprisingly effecting tale of young people attempting to survive a world-wide plague. Great example of how to take the familiar--and overdone--tropes of post-apocalyptic cinema and explore them from a different angle.
Larry Cohen’s disturbing, then chaotic tale of New Yorkers going postal on strangers and their loved ones. The third act is a tad unsatisfying, but some of the early attacks are truly haunting in a realistic, matter-of-fact manner that has stayed with me for months.
19. Doomsday 
Neil Marshall’s all-out Mad Max-inspired action romp didn’t quite wow me the first time I saw it, but upon rewatch, I truly do love the insane gluttony of this film. A guilty pleasure of apocalyptic proportions.
My first (and irresponsibly still only) foray into the catalog of Umberto Lenzi, this zombies-on-Red-Bull horror features some of the best undead attacks you’ve never seen, plus an amusement park sequence that puts Zombieland to shame.
17. Martyrs 
Or The Film That Divided 2008, a manifesto of sorts on torture porn that, much like Cannibal Holocaust, used its subject to explore its themes. Having only watched it once, I’m still not ready to declare it the masterpiece some of my fellow bloggers have decreed, but my viewing experience remains one of the most suspenseful and thoughtful times I’ve had with a film this year.
Another great approach to a tired formula, this under appreciated 2006 film puts a fresh spin on the anthology and everyone’s-a-violent-psycho themes we’ve seen so much of in recent years. The first act, where the renters of a modern apartment complex proceed to tear each other apart with tools and hands, is exhilaratingly frightening, while the second takes an abrupt, but rewarding switch into the blackest of black comedy territory. It falters in the more romantically dramatic final part, but for 2/3rds of its run time, The Signal is a truly fascinating film. 
Without question, the best movie to ever combine Precious Moments and zombies. Laugh-out-loud zomedy that’s follows a Hong Kong pair of Beavis & Buttheadish mallrats as they battle the undead. It may sound like a recipe for unfunny dullness, but Bio Zombie features solid performances, great timing, well-done physical comedy, and dialogue that works in any language.

I was inspired to check out this little gem based on a fine recommendation from Matt over at Chuck Norris Ate My Baby , and though his appetite for children may be questionable, his taste in film is not. From the hombres behind REC comes this nostalgic story of zombie-loving preteens plagued with a moral quandary involving a pit, female Santa Claus, and voodoo. Produced for Spain’s 6 Films To Keep You Awake series, it’s well worth checking out when you want something different. And great.
13. Orphan 
Few things make me quite as happy as seeing good horror in a movie theater. One of those few things is watching a creepy child actor threaten to cut off a little boy’s privates. That may be sick, but nowhere near as much as this 2009 theatrically released  evil kid flick, one of the few that wasn’t a remake or sequel and certainly one of the best. Trashy, scary, funny and mean, Orphan deserves to be adopted. 
There are so many awful zombie films that it’s easy to overlook some of the greats, but this Italian horror (the first in the Knights of Templar series) features some of the most suspenseful attacks in ‘70s history.
11. The Stuff
Can’t get enough...of Larry Cohen’s quirky satirical spin on consumerism, with a wonderfully wacked out Michael Moriarity having almost as good a time acting as we are watching him. Three words: killer ice cream. 
Perhaps the most joyful movie I’ve seen all year, even if does involve suicide, zombie dances, economic hardship, and volcanic eruptions. Takeshi Miike’s musical comedy is a rich dessert of cinematic glee, filled with immensely likable performances and a warm-hearted tale of a family trying to find their way...through song. Yes, there’s gore to be had, but this is a sweetly innocent offering from one of Japan’s most controversial filmmakers and oddly enough, one of the most enjoyably life-affirming films I’ve seen in years.
Haunted houses generally do little but bore me, but this 1976 film does some truly interesting things with an old idea, following a normal young family (although how normal can you be with Karen Black and Oliver Reed as your parents?) as they rent an antique dream house for their summer vacation. Much stranger and more quietly horrifying than you would expect.
8. Baxter 
A black comedy about a sociopathic bull terrier and the Hitler worshipping boy who takes him in. Dryly hysterical and weirdly disturbing. Truly strange in a super way.

7. Christmas Evil 
Definitely the winning gift of this December’s yuletide festival. Odd little movie about a Santa-loving lonely man who finally decides to make the holiday what it should be, even if that means murdering a few strangers lacking the Christmas spirit. 
Hong Kong martial arts extravaganza with beautiful fight choreography and even better dialogue. Funny and kickass.
5. Onibaba 
Ooooh, prestige. Released by Criterion, so it has to be good. And yes, it is. Feudal Japan plus freaky masks in a gritty black-and-white landscape that puts you under a spell.
Jack Hill’s original cannibal clan horror is pure joy from start to finish, with wonderfully playful performances from masters Sid Haig and Lon Chaney Jr. to lesser known, but truly dedicated youngsters Beverly Washburn and Jill Banner. Hysterical and heartfelt, with a twisted sense of humor brought to life in every scene.
3. Deadgirl 
My pick for best horror of 2009, an indie film that shows there still is life left in the zombie genre. Dark and not overly pleasant, but a great exploration of small town youth, power dynamics, and sexuality.
For the past few years, I’ve followed this tradition of always watching a new horror movie with the lights off the first night in  a new home. Past choices include Kairo and Inside, two wise options that probably affected me far more due to my choice to view them alone in unfamiliar surroundings (also, foreign countries). Tourist Trap’s number came up last May when I officially moved into my current Bronx lair. With only a bed, TV-less TV stand, and Pound Puppy furnishing my living room, I visited Slausen's road museum hoping for something terrifying...and got it. The sheer eeriness of this film--from the cheerful carnival music to icky mannequins--physically gave me the chills. Maybe I was influenced by my new surroundings, but Tourist Trap  remains one of those wonderful first viewings that renews a horror fan's faith in cinema.

1. Who Can Kill a Child? 
Without doubt, the scariest film I’ve watched this past year. A sad and all-too-realistic opening, creepingly quiet buildup, and one of the maddest last hours of any horror classic. Find it. Watch it. Love it. Get sterilized because of it.
Honorable Mention: Inglorious Basterds
Since this is primarily a list of films I watched for the blog, it feels a bit of a cheat to give Quentin Tarantino’s blockbuster an official place on the list. Just know that I love it, and you should too.


  1. Glad to see some 2009 flicks (Deadgirl is indeed one of the best horror movies this year) as well as The Signal.

    Hmm going to have to watch more killer kid movies now based on your #1.

  2. I need to watch a lot of these! Thanks for the recommendations I better get busy.

  3. Jaded: If you want a great killer kid movie, I beg you to get your grown up hands on Who Can Kill a Child! It's a slow buildup, but I truly think it's one of the more horrific films I've seen. Just do yourself a favor and try to avoid the trailer: some of the best moments are spoiled in those pesky 2 minute teases.

    Andre: Watch watch watch then review review review! I'll be excited to hear your thoughts on some of these films.

  4. That is a very interesting tradition you have there. I could not imagine watching Kairo, Inside, or Tourist Trap in a new place, on my own. Wow, you've got guts! All three of these movies creeped me right the fuck out. I did watch them alone, but at my house. I want to see Who Can Kill a Child.

    Loved the list! All but Burnt Offerings. I literally chirped when I saw Happiness of the Katakuris. Still don't know how I feel about Martys though.

  5. Kairo was probably the most dramatic, as it was my first night alone in Russia (which is scary enough in itself) and I had very little idea what to expect. It still remains the one film I've seen as an adult that ends up in my nightmares quite often.

    Tourist Trap was one of those "ew---ahhhh....noooooo" movies, where I was audibly reacting. It's just so darn eerie.

    And Inside is pretty much the perfect film for a woman to watch alone in a new place. Especially when the first thing your landlord says is "Don't open the door to anyone, because I'm in the middle of a divorce and my ex-wife doesn't know I'm renting this apartment yet." It helps even more when you're still in Moscow, but living on a street without an address in a former Soviet apartment block.

    You HAVE to watch Who Can Kill a Child! To me, it does totally new things with the killer kid genre. I think Eski might enjoy it too.

    Not a Burnt Offerings fan eh? I'm not usually sold on haunted houses, but something about this film worked for me, especially after I listened to the commentary with the director and Karen Black.

    If there were ever a movie to chirp about, it's Happiness of the Katakuris. Everything about it makes me smile. And chirp.

  6. Y'know, I really need to learn to hesitate before reading lists like this, because they expand my "Gotta See That!" roster exponentially. I love the variety of titles on here--the fact that "Onibaba," "Nightmare City" and "Tourist Trap" share space here is proof of why I keep coming back to read your thoughts on movies. You've got a refreshingly open-minded approach to genre weirdness that I really dig!

    Looking forward to seeing what you love in 2010!

  7. Thanks a bunch Kate! I think "open-minded" is just a euphemism for "watch anything with good key words," but I appreciate the compliment anyway!

    And fist bump on avoiding movie lists. I'm still hesitant to watch Not Quite Hollywood (the Aussie documentary about '70s cinema) because ye olde Netflix queue is slowly crawling to the big 500. I always keep a notebook with me to write down recommendations from podcasts and the like, which gets a tad odd to people when they borrow paper and wonder why my grocery list includes things like "Pig Hunt" and "Horrors of Malformed Men."

  8. I'm beginning to doubt your reviewer credentials if you can put "Doomsday" on a year's best list. That movie was one big pile of steaming how-many-better-movies-can-I-steal-from crap. Neil Marshall's better than this movie. I don't know how "more money" translated into pile-of-crap in this instance...

  9. I think of it more as homage than thievery, especially since some of the stolen goods are so obviously indebted to apocalyptic road rashes of yore. I've yet to listen to his commentary, but I imagine it will blatantly reference all the inspirations.

    I don't know that his money was exactly well spent, but I just enjoyed Doomsday. The first time I watched it, I found the first half genuinely exciting in a what-the-hell-can-happen-next kinda way, although that did wear off at one point and I ended my first viewing a little disappointed. I rewatched it a few weeks back and just found it to be solidly enjoyable. It references some far far better films to be sure, but I just get a kick out of some of that action. Plus cannibalism.

  10. I thought it was horrible. And the homage line is grey, but he clearly stepped over it by stealing from SO MANY. You can't call it an homage when you steal from Escape from New York, Road Warrior, Aliens, Excalibur, and more--in one movie! It was an homage to ALL those movies?

    Only good part was the cannibals dancing to 80's music(was it Fine Young Cannibals?). That made me laugh. And I think there was some Frankie Goes To Hollywood. I always give points for 80's music.

  11. It was a gluttonous homage, and since that's my favorite of the deadly sins, I accept it. Think of it as an expensive montage composed of a lot of better-made action/adventure/post-apocalyptic/horrors. It's a mess, but an entertaining one. WITH really hungry and super efficient cannibals that have somehow discovered a) great dance moves and b) how to make one human body serve a hungry gang of at least 100.

  12. Awesome list and I am so happy that Tourist Trap is your number 2!!!! I've seen and love most of the films on this list, but I really need to catch up with God Told Me to, Carriers, and rewatch Doomsday soon. Also, LOVE Spider Baby!

  13. I am so happy you helped to plant the importance of Tourist Trap in my brain! I just recommended it to my brother to ease his girlfriend into horror, so I'm excited to hear if it's a worthy stepping stone.

    Spider Baby seriously just makes me feel warm inside. I put it on with commentary last week while I was doing errands and I fell even more in love with it. Such a neat mix of comedy, horror, and heart.

    Looking forward to your thoughts on Carriers and God Told Me To. Both imperfect films, but both genuinely disturbing and truly unique.