Thursday, January 30, 2014

Best of the Year: Part 5!

Five years everybody. Five. Years.

That’s right: this blog has now officially been online one full calendar roll longer than John Adams OR John Q. Adams lasted in the oval office (and what? 360 times as long as that weakling William Henry Harrison?). How do we celebrate? The same way we always do, with a roundup of the best films reviewed over the past year:

Far from a masterpiece (or even conventionally good movie), this mostly British anthology earns its spot here for simply being a grab bag of kicks. The framing narrative is so-bad-it's-good in a nonsensical '80s way, while the individual stories are surprisingly eerie and decently paced. No, this isn't a lost classic, but it's an anthology with a great marionette segment. That's enough for #15!

Greatly flawed, and yet great fun. Based on his own novel, Ray Bradbury's screenplay drips atmosphere and poetry, especially when its lyrical dialogue is delivered by pros like Jason Robards and the strangely sexy Jonathan Pryce. Much of the plot is a mess and the ending feels like something of a cheat, but this 'not for kids kids' movie' remains something hauntingly special.

13. Bones

Ernest R. Demon Knight Dickerson is no stranger to making horror comedy entertainment, and 2001's poorly remembered Bones fits well in his canon. There's an inconsistent tone, lead 'performance' by Snoop Dog, and special effects that have aged about as well as cheese left on the counter, but also, Pam Grier, maggots, and a rather affectionate homage to blacksploitation. Far more fun than you'd expect.

First time writer/director Eric Hurt demonstrates refreshing maturity with this little horror indie starring a wonderful Art LaFleur and solid Marc Beastmaster Singer. Two families looking for a real estate bargain investigate a secluded country home only to discover they can't leave. The story isn't necessarily breaking new territory in the current horror landscape, but the execution is pitch perfect.

Probably the last film I expected to be on a 'best of' list, Michael J. Bassett's sequel was shockingly entertaining. Between the inventive visuals, grounded story, double dose of Stark men, and naughty cameo by a certain British fave, this film simply sucked me in from beginning to end.

Less a traditional horror film than a sort of eerie drama, this slow little tale managed to be riveting in the most unusual of ways. Plus, it has Cloris Leachman being Cloris Leachman. Automatic awesome.

The Soska Sisters find the perfect muse in Katharine Isabelle as a detached medical student who finds a new calling in the fascinating world of body modification. Sure, the pacing feels a little confused and the ending rather rushed, but that doesn’t take away from the Soska Sisters’ great use of sound and Isabelle’s incredible turn as a genuinely unique character.

Somehow this early reality TV themed little indie managed to stay under the radar despite the presence of a certain A-list actor named Bradley Cooper. Made on a tiny budget, My Little Eye isn’t necessarily the most original take on a Real World-inspired slasher, but all of filmmaker’s Marc Evans. Resources were so carefully utilized to make it something surprisingly dark.

Recommended to me via blogging pal T.L. Bugg of The Lightning Bug's Lair, this early Mario Bava  haunted house yarn is a rich piece of ‘60s genre cinema dripping with color and eerie atmosphere. Best of all, it takes a wonderfully progressive view of its female characters, letting them be heroes and villains because of rather than in spite of their gender.

I was underwhelmed by Marcus Dunstan’s Saw-inspired The Collector, making his grand followup such a shockingly fun treat. Sure, any film that opens with an entire club of ravers being sliced up in one Rube Goldberg swoop will entertain, but Dunstan truly goes for it, covering every inch of his setting with ridiculous trap and HBO character actor after another. The movie is gross, quick, and most pleasingly, really, really funny.

5. The Bay

The last thing you'd expect from A(ish)-list director Barry Levinson would be a gooey found footage horror film about flesh-eating fish, even if said gooey found footage horror film about flesh-eating fish is set in Baltimore. It's been a while since a movie (especially one made this side of the millennium) made me jump, and even longer since one made me jump more than once. The Bay might still not appeal to those who have sworn off shaky cam and surveillance footage, but man oh man did I have a pleasantly icky time watching. 

Repeat after me: theatrical horror does not have to suck. James DeMonaco's sleeper hit starts with a superbly promising premise and uses its sleek running time to let it unravel without mercy. Sure, the story could have yielded much more ambition, but that's what sequels are for!

Yes, I’m terrified of anything ventriloquist-related, thus easily rendering this 1945 anthology prime meat for a list like this. But even if you close your eyes and stick as many socks in your ears to block out the satanic voice of an evil wooden dummy for the closing segment, you’ll still find plenty to enjoy in this early gem.

One half of the team behind RECJaume Balaguero crafted a truly haunting tale of a sociopathic doorman obsessed with destroying the life of a cheerful tenant. It's a painfully disturbing tale, due in a large part by the outstanding performances of Marta Etura of Luis Tosar. 

If I've been a little slow in my movements, it's because I'm still a tad sore from the 31 lashes I've instituted upon myself to represent every year of my life that I went without seeing Robert Fuest's 1971 cult classic. Holy BATMAN did I love this strange little film, a tale of vengeance filled with unicorn impaling, adorable bats, incredible hats, and Vincent Price speaking through a hole in his throat. 

Thus do we close out 2013 (and then some). We'll be hemming our pants on Saturday as we enter February's annual Shorteneing, so get ready for the usual round of little terrors and come back soon.