Monday, January 31, 2022

Best of the Year (well, MY year)

Yes, I know most best-of lists are supposed to bow in December, but for almost 13 years, I've been doings a little differently, and now that this website is reaching teenagerhood, don't even TRY to tell me how to live my life. 

That's right: it's the last Monday in January, which means Happy Day I Round Up My Favorite Movies Watched & Covered Here of the Year.

A countdown:

10. Amityville: The Evil Escapes

2021 was a year of a lot of things for me, but on the positive side, it shall forever be known as That Time I Discovered How Awesome Later Amityville Sequels Are. The fourth in the franchise (and first made for TV) is directed by Pin’s Sandor Stern (a Game of Thrones-is name if I’ve ever heard one) and, make no mistake, is about a haunted floor lamp. Honestly, that would probably be enough to keep me entertained for 90 minutes, but The Evil Escapes has so much more to offer than its gloriously stupid premise: Patty Duke, teenagers who are actually very pleasant and kind, Long Island yard sales, and a handful of Maximum Overdrive-ish appliances-on-attack moments that have to be experienced to truly be appreciated.

9. Island Zero

As horror fans, we have very differently defined standards when it comes to how we evaluate movies. Island Zero probably wouldn’t make any traditional film critic’s best-of list, but it was impossible for me not to admire how smartly it made its choices, trusting a low profile but well-experienced cast to sell its invisible monsters premise in bad lighting and minimum special effects. It's not easy, but shockingly, director Josh Gerritsen makes it work.

8. 1BR

I love a good Stepford spin, and writer/director David Marmor's 1BR manages to find some new angles into the horrors of new neighbors. Throw in a surprisingly grand ending and you've got a solid, original genre film that might not break any barriers, but is immensely satisfying.

7. Doppelganger

No, Doppelganger is not actually the best anything, but by golly, this mess of an early '90s attempt at sexy thriller gave me so many jaw drops that I felt like a Tourist Trap mannequin by the grand finale. Now granted, there are things that are genuinely awful about Doppelganger: a plot that doesn't make sense, a bland lead (double negative points for him being a "nice guy" struggling screenwriter/irresponsible cat owner), a possibly exploited young Drew Barrymore, and the sense that nobody involved understands that a psychiatrist sleeping with his underrage patient is sexual abuse. Look, we were IDIOTS in 1993, so check your conscience at the door and indulge in the glory of one of the weirdest mysteries you've never heard of. To go into any detail would be a spoiler, so please: just turn it on for free via Tubi and see what I mean. 

6. Amityville Dollhouse

Looking back at my review of Amityville Dollhouse, one phrase stuck out: enthusiastic weirdness. It's pretty high on the list of compliments I can give, and Dollhouse brings it without restraint: giant puppet mice, zombie dads, laser portals, lustful stepmothers, violent bookshelves, and so much more. This movie will not scare you (unless you have a deeply unresolved fear of, well, bookshelves) but from beginning to end, you will have fun.

5. The New York Ripper

Despite being a lifelong horror fan who came of age during the booming age of VHS rentals, giallo has never been my cup of cappuccino. Most Argento leaves me cold, and so many of the wackily titled, colorfully blooded releases of the late '70s to mid '80s just feel like they're not speaking to me. Yet there's one filmmaker from this specific era who consistently delivers work I connect with: Lucio Fulci. The New York Ripper is one of his sleaziest outputs, an obvious Video Nasty seemingly made just to top the list. This is a movie that includes a woman entering a dive bar, sitting at a table with strangers, and allowing them to remove their shoes to stick their dirty bare toes into her vagina. It's a story about a deranged killer brutally murdering women who display any kind of public sexuality, and yet, AND YET I SAY, this film manages to NOT be misogynistic. It's ABOUT misogyny, and it utilizes some horrific storytelling to explore it. Not for the faint of heart or hygiene, but well worth a gander.

4. Lucky

One of my 2022 goals as a film lover is to get better about revisiting movies that I watch and say, "I think I really liked it but I really should experience it again in order to fully get it." I have yet to go back to Lucky, but it's at the top of that list because it's the prime example of the type of film that stays trapped in your head as you try to unravel it. Screenwriter Brea Grant plays a self-help author stuck in a variation on ye olde Groundhog Day scenario, where a masked man is trying to murder her no matter how many times she defeats him. To everyone else, she's "lucky." After all, she's financially successful, attractive, married, and hunted, sure, but not sexually assaulted. The way Grant and director Natasha Kermani twist a simple stalker tale into how women are perceived is pretty genius. At barely 80 minutes long, it manages to throw a batch of complicated questions at its audience and explore their various answers while still leaving you wondering. It's unusual, and it works.

3. Slaxx

What could have surfed on its simple premise of being "the killer pants movie" is instead a tight, funny, weird, and earnest message about the cost of capitalism. Also, IT'S A KILLER PANTS MOVIE.

2. Dark Waters

Few things are more exciting to lifelong horror fans than discovering films from the past that you never even knew existed, and thus was the case with 1993's Dark Waters, a Wicker Man-esque tale beautifully filmed on the alien-feeling shores of a post-Soviet Ukraine. A young woman travels to a remote island inhabited by horrifying locals and a mysterious convent, only to be wrapped up in a mystery that makes us all question the stakes in the battle of good and evil. Dark Waters is slow and out of time, making it one of those movies best watched on a dark and stormy night without interruption. It has a rather bonkers finale and a million unanswered questions. I loved it.

1. Anything for Jackson

While several titles available on Shudder made this list, Anything for Jackson is easily the one I go to to say, "this is why horror fans need to subscribe." On paper, this was already made specifically for me: older characters, a snowbound setting, and a filmmaking team (director Justin Dyck/writer Keith Cooper) from the not-quite-Hallmark school of Christmas movies. But Anything for Jackson still managed to surprise me with three distinctly terrifying monster designs, a whole cast filled with aching performances, and a stunningly complicated sense of morality. It's genuinely sad AND scary, and while it calls to mind other titles,  it's truly an original, one-of-a-kind tale. 


  1. Interesting list.
    I've seen some of them... but not those Amityville movies... and or Island Zero.
    I'll get right on them, post haste.

    Though I'm not sure what sort of drugged confection could drive me to attempt the Drew Barrymore one...