Monday, January 30, 2023

Best of the Year!

Here we are! The last week in January marks the anniversary of this blog, which means we're hitting the FOURTEENTH annual post where I count down my favorite movies I covered over the past year. Here goes!

There's a reason why Deliverance was such a hit, and why hundreds of knockoffs have followed. When a formula works, you keep at it. With Rituals, director Peter Carter and screenwriter Ian Sutherland crafted a speedy wilderness thriller that drips with dread from the very first lost shoe. Its alpha male cast comes loaded with the kind of overeducated, overconfident bluster that can only be schooled in the worst way. Rituals doesn't reach the heights of what this very specific subgenre can do, but it comes very close. 

This was the year of Shudder following up its epic documentary Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched by wisely releasing many of the folk horror films it referenced onto its own service, and boy was I grateful. As someone always seeking out genre films with older settings, I was pleasantly surprised to discover an 18th century tale I'd never heard of, and even MORE satisfied when I sat down to watch it. Eyes of Fire is incredibly unusual, both a product of its laser-filled '80s time and also something that feels like it's from another world. You won't be bored. 

Game show horror is always a fun treat for me, and Jason William Lee nails it with his deadly take on Big Brother. A batch of attractive has-been internet celebrities are forced to win viewer votes or face a challenge that will send them to the grave. It's a classic premise, but Lee goes an extra step by quietly developing his inevitable victims into surprisingly human characters. It's not an easy feat (just ask most former reality stars) but Lee pulls it off with plenty of fun. 

8. The Psychic

The older I get, the more I appreciate the wild diversity of Lucio Fulci. Obviously, his gooey gorefests have always been near and dear to my heart, but much like when Roger Corman directed The Mask of Red Death, it's thrilling to occasionally be reminded that this filmmaker can actually MAKE OBJECTIVELY GOOD FILMS. The Psychic is a twisty giallo centered on the unspeakably glamorous Jennifer O'Neill, helped by a tremendous Fabrio Fizzi score. It's sad and clever and an absolute blast. 

I'm a sucker for a Saw-ish premise, which is what I thought I'd be getting when I queued up this little movie on Amazon Prime. Little did I know that writer/director Mathieu Turi had created his own cosmic trojan horse of sorts, making a film that feels fully in line with countless "strangers awaken in a dangerous game-based setting" only to flip the script halfway through with something so much deeper. Meander has a whole lot to explore, whether that's our place in the universe, what it means to connect, or the price of grief. There's a lot going on in this low budget sci-fi tale that feels a tad like like a Twilight Zone episode on light the best possible way. 

Horror fans, particularly those weaned on '80s slashers, are used to thinking of dead teenagers as table stakes. Occasionally, we might like a victim enough to feel a twinge of sadness at their untimely end, but more often than not, death is simply expected. What struck me most about Alison's Birthday (a movie that's striking for a LOT of reasons) is just how deeply invested I was in one single soon-to-be 19-year-old's fate. Mad Max's Joanne Samuel is a pleasant but unremarkable woman who just happens to have been born into a family hellbent on using her for a deeply tragic ritual. The final shot of Alison's Birthday is one I haven't been able to shake this past year. What an unusual, disciplined, and utterly sad tale. Be sure to check it out on Shudder. 

Books should be written about The Witch Who Came From the Sea, a film that's so loaded with ideas that it overflows out of its running time. Robert Thorn wrote the film for his wife Millie Perkins, who dives into the material with fearless insanity. Director Matthew Cimber would go on to create the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling and inspire Marc Maron's character on Netflix's GLOW, which somehow isn't even the most interesting fact about this one-of-a-kind movie. A dark exploration of abuse and what it can do to a woman, a strange poem about the beauty of the male body, a sandy seaside world that always seems ready to drown...there's a lot here, and it deserves more conversation.

2009's Orphan was such a breath of fresh air: an original horror film with A-list talent giving its all, a wintery setting used to its best, a shocking ending that still holds up, and of course, one of the best horror villains under 5'. We were all hesitantly excited about a sequel, and somehow, the inaccurately titled First Kill delivered on all counts. Julia Stiles does wonders with Esther's newest foe, but of course, it's Isabelle Furhman who cements her status as a horror icon. What a ride. 

Come for the glory of a Peter Cushing/Christopher Lee matchup, stay for the surprisingly Wicker Man-esque twists of this jaunty 1973 mystery! Director Peter Sasdy takes on John Blackburn's novel armed with a stellar cast. You've got a murderous cult, brassy redhead axe murderess, creepy children, stylish journalists, and a genuinely jaw-dropping ending.  

Thom Eberhardt is best known for the glorious Night of the Comet, so it was a thrill to discover his first film in all of its strange and smart glory. The wonderfully understated Anita Skinner plays a professional young woman who escapes certain death only to have it follow her in the form of stalking corpses. I'm making this sound like Final Destination by way of George Romero which is incredibly unfair, as Sole Survivor is so much more unique in how it unfolds. While it's tonally miles away from Night of the Comet, you can hear Eberhardt's commitment to crafting nuanced young women and using classic horror tropes to tell a completely new story. 

1. Celia 

On one hand, Ann Turner's magnificent Celia isn't really a horror film. On the other, this is one of the most upsetting stories I've ever watched unfold, and I adored every minute of it. Set in Australia during the political and ecological turmoil of the 1950s, Celia tells the story of a young girl trying to navigate a world that doesn't seem very fair. Canny viewers may wonder if more modern classics cribbed some notes (The Babadook and Paperhouse spring to mind) while I kept thinking of last year's Shortening star, Poison for the Fairies. Like that film, Celia understands what it means to experience the world through the eyes of a little girl. It's a scary, angry place to be.

No comments:

Post a Comment