Friday, January 25, 2013

Best of the Year 4!

The Doll's House has officially reached the age of 4, which in blog years, means legal for drinking, karaokeing, typoing, coining verbenings, and a whole lot of other things that don't actually exist. So let's forget the milestone and plow on with tradition, which of course means a countdown of my favorite movies reviewed here these past 365 days:

28. Slugs

Slugs sits comfortably in the esteemed pantheon of so-bad-they’re-rather-amazing genre films. It’s nice to induct a new member into that hall of fame.

In a world where there’s simply not enough killer scarecrows, this early ‘90s slasher fills an important gap…and does so with a supporting turn from a pre-Winter’s Bone John Hawks.

Did it all add up? Maybe not, but that doesn't mean I didn't enjoy the always great (and yes, handsome) Clive Owen as a dedicated father trying to protect his daughter from a homemade monster.

And the WTF Movie of the Year Award easily goes to this Canadian children’s movie starring Mickey Rooney as a spritely predator who convinces two rich kids, their pet duck, and Cambodian refugee foster brother to abandon their cares by running away (to Cambodia?) on a broken down coal train. A birthday gift from Paracinema (and my Feminine Critique other half)’s Christine, Terror Train is the definitive case for “they don’t make ‘em like they used to, and for the youth of the world, that might be okay.”

One of the more--dare I say it?--DIVISIVE genre films of the year, Xavier Gens (Frontiers) tackles the apocalypse by stranding an apartment full of morally ambiguous New Yorkers in a bomb shelter basement, then steps back to let starvation, sex, and power plays take hold. Yes, it’s not exactly the feel-good film of 2012, but its brutal commitment to capturing desperation is terrifyingly effective.

The definition of ‘so much better than it had to be, Darren Lynn Bousman's reinterpretation of Troma’s favorite holiday casts a steely eyed Rebecca DeMornay as the matriarch of a dangerous brood trying to reclaim its suburban paradise from a troubled young couple and their assortment of party guests. At nearly 2 hours and juggling over a dozen characters, Mother’s Day is perhaps far more ambitious than it should have been (and hampered by an ill-fitting ending), but trying too hard is far from a punishable sin when it comes to horror remakes.

22. Gnaw

If Bert I. Gordon’s Food of the Gods is a rather silly movie about animal gigantism, than its pseudo sequel Gnaw is a rather delightfully silly movie about animal gigantism. What makes it even more fun than its original is the overwhelming sense Gnaw has of the 1980s, from the big haired heroine to multiple montages to its grand guignol finale, a massacre via Rodents Of Unusual Size set at a synchronized swimming competition.

We’ve probably all been guilty of bemoaning the found footage trend in indie horror, yet here I stand with 2.5 such picks on my list. On paper, the Vicious Brothers’ Grave Encounters seems like every other low budget horror film made post-Paranormal Activity. The difference is in the execution, as a grating Ghost Hunters-esque film crew enters a haunted mental hospital with shaky cam and modeled scares a’blazin’, only to quickly be confronted by genuine terror. Both funny and effectively scary, Grave Encounters proves that there’s still plenty of fresh territory to mine in handheld horror.

20. Scalene

Zach Parker’s heartbreaking indie puts a new spin—or rather, triangular viewpoint—on Rashomon, following the different perceptions three characters have regarding an alleged rape. Justified’s Margo Martindale gives a fantastically uncompromising performance as the weary mother of a 26-year-old with brain damage, while Hannah Hall provides a fascinating counterpoint as the good intentioned but severely misguided college student. The pieces don’t add up, and they’re not supposed to. It’s as frustrating as any misunderstanding in life.

Few things please me more than finding than a taut, original little film made by an upcoming filmmaker Matthew Parkhill’s The Caller is that kind of shiny gem, a ghost story/romance/time travel tale about an abused wife trying to make it on her own, only to then became hunted by the spirit (maybe) of her new apartment’s former tenant, a bitter, lonely old woman who seeks to make sure everyone is as miserable as her life was in the 1970s. Also in the mix is nicely compelling romantic subplot, a comforting turn from Luis Guzman, and a cute dog. What’s not to like?

The godfather of cheap genre cinema, Roger Corman apparently had a rare fit of actual motivation with this medieval times set Vincent Price chiller. Bathed in vibrant colors, this morality tale is both gorgeous to look at and pure joy to sit through. Corman was never better.

Scandoulsy titled Don’t Deliver Us From Evil takes its inspiration from the Parker-Hulme case that also gave birth to Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures. Somewhere in France, two upper middle class Catholic schoolgirls fight boredom by worshiping the devil, teasing any heterosexual man with eyeballs, and murdering the beloved housepets of a servant. Not a typical horror film (or even exploitation title, despite its marketing), Don’t Deliver Us From Evil leaves a lasting impression, possibly because it boasts one of the most shocking finales I’ve seen in some time.

This strange little Thai horror film is almost like a modern twist on Hausu, with a group of shallow nurses paying for murder via their vices. Hair strangles the beautiful, purses eat the head of the greedy, and a whole lot of grisly wackiness ensues.

2012 marks the year I ‘discovered’ Curtis Harrington, a prolific yet not-that-well-known filmmaker who made some wonderfully challenging films in the 1970s. In The Killing Kind, Anne Sothern and John Savage play a frighteningly off mother-son pair who bring out the worst in one another. Like an American version of Pedro Almovodar, Harrington has an uncanny interest and ability at highlighting middle aged women, a population that never seems to get the film coverage it deserves.

14. Phase IV

If you only have one directorial credit to your name, it might as well be something as strange and memorable as Phase IV. Graphic designer Saul Bass explores the power of hive minds and ant superiority in this smart sci-fi thriller, following a team of scientists investigating new developments in the insect world. With one of the cutest antiheroes in cinema, Phase IV is a truly unique piece of work.

13. REC 3

More akin to The Evil Dead 2 than its straight horror predecessor, REC 3 is less a continuation of the series than a side project. The film takes place at a countryside wedding (happening, we assume, simultaneously with the events of the first film) where a likable and dedicated young couple use chainsaws, decorative armor, and radio technology to battle a horde of the infected. Funny and sweet, REC 3 doesn’t come close to being a great horror movie, but it’s one of the best times I had on DVD this year.

The Blair Witch Project’s Eduardo Sanchez goes to a dark, sad place to tell the tale of Molly, a recovering drug addict/working class part-time janitor who might be crazy, might be relapsing, or might be possessed by the kind of demon that preys upon the abused. With a brave and glamorless central performance from Gretchen Lodge, Lovely Molly is far from perfect, but leaves a haunting and devastating impression.

11. Rabies

Israel's first official horror film is a wonderfully original tale, sometimes funny, sometimes scary, but always incredibly fresh. Like a movie that shows up a few spots down on this list, Rabies breathes new life into the idea of a standard slasher, toying with character, time, and tone in a way that's wonderfully new.

10. Deathdream

There are horror films made to scare you and then there are those seemingly designed to hurt your feelings. Bob Clark, who birthed the modern slasher with Black Christmas, patented a nationwide yearly tradition with A Christmas Story, and terrified my inner child with The Karate Dog, made such a film with his 1972 Deathdream (aka Dead of Night), a Monkey’s Paw varietal about an inconsolable mother whose grief brings her son, a private in Vietnam, back from the dead. There are no real bad guys in the story, just a parent who refuses to let go and the young veteran turned homicidal by means he can’t control. It’s a haunting film, one that finds a deeper, far more painful horror to explore than most of its peers

9. Matango

Based on a title that includes the subheading “Attack of the Mushroom People,” one probably expects some light-hearted goofiness from this mid-60s Japanese oddity. Not so the case, and that’s surprisingly a good thing. Matango is an eerie film, one that follows a fairly unlikable group of wealthy but ill-fated tourists as they get shipwrecked on an abandoned island, slowly letting their starvation fuel in-fighting and eventually, well, you know, mushroomination. Unlike anything I’ve ever sees, Matango is wonderfully weird.

Perhaps the best con of a movie, Megan Is Missing spends its first 30 minutes or so pretending to be the most insufferable thing you've ever willingly watched. Bratty 8
th grade girls curse at each other like your worst parenting nightmare, only to suddenly teach some terrifyingly important lessons about the dangers of the Internet. Home to the most disturbing single image in a film I've seen this year, Megan Is Missing is a genuinely upsetting indie complete with two deceptively good lead performances.

7. Riki Oh

I could take this paragraph to describe the gleeful punch-through-stomach absurdity of this Hong Kong gory action movie, but no amount of words can truly capture the joy at watching a man attempt to strangle his enemy with his own intestines. Long a cult classic, Riki Oh is something truly insane, insanely joyful, and just a little gross.

Jack Arnold directs Richard Matheson’s novel with full respect, using one everyman’s shrinkage to examine what it means to exist. Sure, the film is most memorable for its giant spider battle (which IS pretty cool), but like the best science fiction, The Incredible Shrinking Man is, at its heart, less about its supernatural gimmick than about how mankind responds to what is thrust upon it.

I wish I had the proper vocabulary to express my complete adoration for this Mill Creek find, a ‘70s cheapie killer kid classic that includes a catfight, bear trap, Boss Hogg, and a piranha tank. It is pure glory.

If Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? cross-pollinated with Day of the Animals, it might look something like this moody Australian chiller. An unhappily married couple is off to spend a quiet weekend on a secluded beach, but their disregard for nature—and each other—leads a host of land and sea-dwelling creatures to fight back. Often lumped in with goofier nature strikes back fare, Long Weekend is far more intellectual than something like Frogs, using the scares of the animal kingdom to better bring out the true monstrosity in mankind.

One of the most innovative slashers I’ve ever seen, Dream Home combines some truly brutal violence, a sick sense of humor, and genuinely thoughtful commentary on economics, class, and the housing market. Josie Ho plays  a selfish, yet somewhat sympathetic woman tired of seeing others take what she has worked for. With an unusual time structure and morally ambiguous attitude, Dream Home finds a new voice for an age old subgenre.

The great thing about The Grey is that it easily could have been The Liam Neeson Movie Where Fights Muthah F*cking Wolves. And while that DOES happen, Joe Carnahan’s The Grey is also one of the deepest, most philosophical films of 2012, using a plane crash’s Alaskan survivors as a means to explore what it means to be alive. In between these never overwrought metaphors? Liam Neeson fights muthah f*cking wolves. One of the year’s absolute best.

One word: unicorn


  1. This is a great list, and summing up of your blog entries. (I'm mad at myself for missing your Devil Times Five review...but I'm on it now). Curtis Harrington is terribly under seen today...the only reason I know about him is because I had a stoned out film professor screen Night Tide for us in college.

    I loved The Grey too...and I could smack myself for missing out on its theatrical run.

    I could hardly believe The Masque of Red Death was a Corman film. Just because of the quality and attention to detail (it ain't Bloody Mama).

    Cabin in the Woods, I need to see it. I will. Eventually.

    Happy four years.

  2. Thanks Dusty! I was so pleased to discover Harrington this year. I still haven't seen Night Tide, but I'm excited to get through his whole catalog. It's so great to find a filmmaker whose work just seems so up your alley.

    And The Masque of Red Death: right??? It's so strange how the one time he seemed to really try, he made a truly great genre film. Makes you wonder...

    I'll be curious to hear your thoughts on Cabin In the Woods. I hope by now the hype doesn't hurt it for you.

  3. Yay!!! Happy birthday!!! :)

  4. As for Phase IV, did you hear about the recently discovered alternate ending?

    I really need to see Cabin in the Woods so I can know what all this one-armed zombie girls, Lovecraft, and unicorn stuff I've been missing!

    And speaking of Long Weekend, there's a strange Australian horror flick (thought to be THE first) that is apparently only fifty minutes long, and has no dialogue! haha! It's unfortuately saddled with the incredibly bland title Night of Fear though!

  5. I did Chris! I had heard about the alternate ending before it was 'discovered', so it was a nice happy ending to know it was finally recovered. Hope they get a special edition out soon!


  6. I'm just happy to say I've seen a sold handful of the films on your list and pretty much agree with your summations. Even better if I didn't agree because, spirited debate and all that.

    Except for maybe one...

  7. Spirited debate is nice and all, but world peace? You can't buy that!

    (is the one my #1?)

  8. Emily: Happy (late) fourth birthday! I just celebrated my fourth over at Midnite Media less than a week before you. Who knew we were so close in age!? Looking forward to the next year of posts.


  9. Twinsies! I had no idea! Congrats to you Jonny!

  10. Enjoyed reading your list, but had a couple differences of opinion which for some reason, I feel compelled to share!

    You liked Megan is missing way, way way more than I did. I read your review and can't really argue with your points, it just didnt work for me.

    I'd move Rabies up into the top three, though that could be because it was such a surprise. I just loved that movie!

    And even though it's not really a difference of opinion, I am glad to see Rec 3 up there on your list. Like you said, not a great movie, but I had a hell of a lot of fun with it too.

    Oh, and agree on number one, if for no other reason than unicorn!

  11. Megan Is Missing is an interesting one to discuss. I've recommended it to a lot of people, and some have been angry at me for it! I see some of its problems, but I also really admire how it manages to play its audience before dropping an anvil on them.

    I'm really looking forward to seeing what the Rabies filmmakers do next. It was a pleasant surprise!


  12. Absolutely loved Cabin in the Woods. couldn't agree more with your number 1 pick.