Monday, January 29, 2018

Best of the Year, Year 9!

As we wrap up our ninth anniversary here at the Doll’s House, we honor tradition by looking back at the best—well, most enjoyable—films covered over the last 365 official blogging days. While 2017 didn't quite have the bang of some past years, it DID give us murderous gym equipment, zombie theme parks, and of course...

Yes, Cat In the Cage is easily the worst thing on this list in terms of quality, but it’s also the kind of wacky, joyous, angry, nonsensical batch of weirdness INVOLVING A CAT that makes it a default entry here. The story is both confusing and confused, an unresolved revenge tale with a last act twin brother reveal and unexplained disappearance of its best character (yes, it’s the cat). It is obviously well worth a watch.

I’m not here to tell anyone that Heidi, the found footage evil doll film airing in all its under 80 minute glory on Amazon Prime, is a great movie. For the first half hour or so, I wondered whether it was even worth finishing. But you know what? At some point, somehow, Heidi becomes a genuinely creepy little tale, making clever use of its budgetary limitations to suggest true evil without ever having to really show it. It’s an impressive feat that won’t click for everyone, but if you give it a chance, you might find it intriguingly unsettling.

It had to happen sooner or later: my drunken idea of a theme park where people hunt zombies comes true in this light but action-packed version of Jurassic World. The high concept is thankfully matched by decent production values and some of the better looking undead of the last several years. You get rich people hunting zombies then being hunted by zombies. What more do you want?

I could go into deep detail about how Baba Yaga is a fascinating representation of female power in horror or how it explores a woman finding sexuality outside of the male gaze, or I can just say THIS MOVIE INVOLVES AN S&M CLAD PORCELAIN DOLL THAT TURNS INTO A BADASS HENCHWOMAN and you know, you get why it makes the list.

7. Viral
At the risk of sounding like a very old woman, those Catfish boys seem to have a pretty impressive ear to millennial culture. Viral is a sleek, fairly small apocalyptic zombie tale framed so specifically as a tale of two teenaged sisters trying to survive. With a rich script from Barbara Marshall and Christopher Landon, it’s a solid, involving saga that finds a very human way in to a much larger story.

Less a horror film and more an American gothic fairy tale, Hunter Adams’ Dig Two Graves tells the sad, compelling story of a young girl whose mourning for her older brother leads her down a dark path buried deep in her small, haunted hamlet. Ted Levine ’s performance as her kind and morally torn grandfather is a thing of beauty. This is far from the scariest film on this year’s list, but it’s certainly the saddest.

Perhaps the one horror film on this list that would have been better if it just wasn’t a horror movie, Late Phases follows a grumpy retired veteran (the solid gold that is Nick Damici) as he discovers that his new gated community is the target of a hungry werewolf. The human stuff far outweighs the cheaper monster effects, but that tends to be what you get when you have deep conversations about religion and life with Tom Noonan. This isn’t a great horror movie, but it’s great in terms of how it lets an age class we never see get to deal with the situations typically reserved for bland teenagers.

A rookie cop starts the overnight shift at a soon-to-be-closed place station only to find herself doing battle with the ghosts of a satanic cult. Director Anthony DiBlasi does a whole lot with his one-night thriller, building tension beautifully and suggesting so much more than what we see in this all-too-short tale. It’s rare that I want a film to be longer, but this was a case where I could easily watch a prequel and beyond.

Yes, it’s most well-known for SPOILER ALERT OF THE SCI-FI ‘70S the “made from people” reveal. But the beauty of Richard Fleischer’s cinematic adaptation of the far less interesting novel Make Room! Make Room! is that it’s also a haunting preview of the possibilities of a world mismanaged. Overpopulation and environmental abuse have led to a miserable existence for the 99%, who pile up to sleep in hallways while the wealthy keepers occupy bland high rises where the romantic company is actually called “furniture.” Soylent Green’s most iconic image may be Charlton Heston’s final screams, but it’s the grand Edward G. Robinson’s journey of a man unlucky enough to remember the beauty of the natural world that truly elevates the material. You’ll never look at a plate of lettuce with the same unappreciative eyes.

As has historically been the case when it comes to political satire, genre film continues to be the first in line with biting commentary. Leave it to Roger Corman’s production company to nail a post-Trump world by casting Malcolm McDowell as the perfect hair plugged stand-in. The film uses the same basic outline as the 1975 original, wisely updating it with over-the-top characters more fitting of our time. Despite making strong statements about politics, pop culture, climate change, and other current issues, Death Race 2050 never loses sight of its main goal: ridiculous, violent entertainment that never stops moving.

For as rough a place as this world can seem (especially in these last two years of political darkness), there are certain human-made creations that do wondrous jobs of renewing our faith in the possibilities of this species. Bubble wrap packaging, nachos, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend…these are true gems in our physical world made with the minds and hands of homo sapiens. So, my friends, is Death Spa. An ‘80s slasher that somehow combines aerobics, cyber ghosts, killer power shakes, and Ken Foree in a rainbow blazer, this is the kind of boisterous ‘80s slasher that makes you remember why and how crappy horror movies can be an incredibly joyous thing.

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