Monday, January 29, 2024

Best of the Year! (well, my year)

It’s an annual tradition in these parts to take the last week in January as the day I celebrate my favorite movies that I reviewed over that past year. It’s my late stab at doing a ‘best of’ list, and also, my own little way of remembering that it was this same week WAY back in 2009 that I decided to build my own doll’s house in literary cinematic form.

Here we are, FIFTEEN YEARS later, and what can I say? The world has changed. I’ve gone from my 20s to my 40s, lived a few lifetimes, and have witnessed the birth of FOUR additional installments in the Children of the Corn franchise. 

And have still yet to find an actual good one.

In other words, don’t worry: this site remains what it is and has always been, a little nook on the internet to grab a weekly dose of my blathering on about the most rewarding genre.

With that in mind, here are the best movies I reviewed here in 2023. And remember: I never said I had good taste. 

14. Snow White: A Tale of Terror

Fantasy horror hit a draught in the ‘90s, with director Michael Cohn’s mid-budget Snow White dying a slow death on Showtime. While not a masterpiece, it’s a gorgeous-looking film and most importantly, features a true movie star performance from Sigourney Weaver. She clearly relished the chance to go big, but what makes her wicked stepmother such an anchor is how much pathos she brings to this character. The last few years have seen a minor renaissance in this kind of film, and all of them share this kind of layered, glamorous villainess who tends to grab more of the audience interest than the bland ingenue intended to be the story’s heart. Snow White is far from perfect or even the best telling of this kind of story, but there’s a lot here that is easy to relish.

13. Hounded

We’ve seen plenty of variations on Hounded’s plot: poor but plucky young delinquents attempt to rob old money snobs only to discover they’ve punched their tickets as prey in The Most Dangerous Game. There’s nothing that revolutionary about Hounded, but director Tommy Boulding imbues his version with a surprising amount of heart. His characters are human beings who aren’t ready to face (or cause) death, even if it comes at the hands of the deliciously gravel-voiced head huntress Samantha Bond. 

12. The Strays

Sometimes a good movie becomes great in its last ten seconds. Making his filmmaking debut, writer/director Nathaniel Martello-White takes several big genre-bending twists as he follows Neve, an upper class stay-at-home mom and light-skinned black woman whose past comes back to reckon with the life she meticulously, immorally built for herself. It’s not a perfectly paced story, but it’s aided by some ferocious performances and, most importantly, one of the most wickedly satisfying film endings I’ve ever seen. 

11. Bit

Low budget lesbian vampire stories aren’t the first thing I expect to add to a best-of list, but I knew immediately after watching Bit that it would find its spot here. Trans rights activist Nicole Maines stars as a recent high school graduate who falls into the wrong (or right?) undead crowd headed by the insanely cool Diana Hopper. Writer/director Brad Michael Elmore doesn’t change the genre landscape, but he finds a new angle into an old story and lets his incredibly charismatic actresses thrive. 

10. You Should Have Left

David Koepp reunited with his Stir of Echoes star Kevin Bacon for this extremely satisfying twist on the haunted house format. Bacon stars as the much older husband of Amanda Seyfried’s movie star wife. When they take their daughter to a secluded Welsh farmhouse for some family bonding, things quickly unravel. Much like another title a few spots up this list, You Should Have Left is a pleasant reminder that sometimes, A-list talent still has a place in the horror genre. 

9. Sea Fever

Who can ever say no to Alien at sea? Neasa Hardiman’s sci-fi body horror follows an awkward grad student’s ill-fated ride on a fishing boat through extraterrestrial squid territory. It’s short, it’s gooey, and it’s so efficient in its storytelling that my only real problem was that I wanted more.

8. The Innocents

It’s not secret that evil children are one of my all-time favorite types of horror movie villains, which also means I’ve also seen a LOT of evil children horror movies. You have to work hard to tap into something fresh. That’s what makes Eskil Vogt’s The Innocents such a special watch. Set under the shining Nordic sun, The Innocents follows a set of kids who seem to be randomly gifted extraordinary powers of the mind. The problem? They’re so young that they don’t necessarily understand their own moral grounding. It’s eerie, occasionally horrific, and always unsettling. 

7. Better Watch Out

It was a good year for The Shortening! Writer/director Chris Peckover nails a clever tone with his Christmas-set home invasion that follows a plucky babysitter (the always reliable Olivia DeJonge) and her more-than-meets the eye charge (Levi Miller). The easy description is that this is the natural horror movie progression of Home Alone, but that sells Peckover’s work short. This is a filmmaker who has a lot to say and explore, and more importantly, has such a mastery of the genre that he manages to do so in funny AND shocking ways.

6. Phantom of the Mall: Eric’s Revenge

There are ‘80s horror movies, and there are ‘80S HORROR MOVIES. Phantom of the Mall is set at a MALL. It has SKATEBOARDING deaths. SHOULDER PADS. MORGAN FAIRCHILD IN SHOULDER PADS. These things are great on their own, but toss in some early capitalist satire and even more sequins and you’re in for a truly delightful treat. 

5. Citizen X

Unlike a lot of my fellow horror brethren, I find serial killers and particularly, movies based on REAL serial killers more nauseating than entertaining. Citizen X, an early HBO original movie, gets a bit of a pass for having enough distance between its true crime pedigree and the present to assuage my guilt at being so intrigued by a horrific crime involving real people. Because seriously: this movie is highly entertaining. Stephen Rea plays a Soviet forensic specialist leading an 8-year investigation into a child murderer. That’s hard, but doing so under the bureaucratic weight of the Soviet Union is nearly impossible. Thankfully, there’s Donald Sutherland as a higher up with a better understanding of how to play the game. Watching these actors play off each other is a thrill, especially when you factor in a good old-fashioned detective story told well.

4. Influencer

Just as ghost hunting was the premier profession of 2010 horror characters, the job of influencer has become quite common on Shudder originals and when it’s done as well as Kurtis David Harder’s film, I have no problem with that. The incredibly charismatic Cassandra Naud stars as a world traveler with an unhealthy habit of befriending social media sensations and taking over their already fragile identities. There’s so much more going on here, and it’s genuinely thrilling with surprise after surprise. What a refreshing little movie.

3. Copycat

Sometimes you spend 20+ years assuming you’d seen a popular big budget studio film only to discover you were mixing it up with a dozen other movies. Thankfully, I finally sat down to watch 1995’s Copycat and was rewarded with something special: big movie stars giving it their all in a sharp thriller filled with everything you want on the big screen. Copycat is the kind of movie that doesn’t really get made anymore, though you can certainly see its legacy on streaming miniseries that often misunderstand the appeal of a good investigative mystery. Holly Hunter and Sigourney Weaver are at the top of their game as two incredibly capable, yet very different professional women who are the last thing standing between a psychopath and a whole lot of innocent victims. It’s a master class in how to do a popcorn flick right. 

2. Sissy

Influencer culture is a hot topic in this year’s indie horror, and though I still flinch when someone sends me a TikTok, I’m all for it. With Sissy, the writer/director team of Kane Senes and Hannah Barlow craft an incredibly rich portrait of a successful but anxiety-filled social media star who can’t quite let go of the emotional scars of her past. Lead Aisha Dee is achingly good in the titular role, making it easy for the audience to actively root for her success even if it means the death of a few innocent bystanders. This was one of the most satisfying watches I’ve had in a long, long time. 

1. Dual

Riley Stearns is one of the most interesting filmmakers working today with the lowest profile, and with an output as good as Dual and Faults, I hope things stay that way. More black comedy than the futuristic sci-fi its plot synopsis sells, Dual follows an unlucky woman (played to deadpan perfection by Karen Gillan) misdiagnosed with a fatal disease in a future where you can commission your own double to take over your life when you die. When her illness proves to be minor, she’s now challenged by a clone who won’t leave in a society that has specific, bureaucratic systems in place to deal with such matters. It’s incredibly funny and exceedingly weird in ways that call The Lobster to mind, and I absolutely loved it.

Monday, January 22, 2024

The Lessons We Learned In 2023

We're quickly approaching another anniversary here at the Doll's House, which means we continue our FIFTEENTH annual compilation of some of our favorite Lessons Learned this past year. Take out your notes and get studying! 

Sensory Details

Evil doll activity smells quite a bit like very bad fartsThe Doll 

Skincare Is Self Care

If your lover mistakes a snake for your caressing hands, it's probably a note to moisturize more often — Vipers

Having a fresh face makes it easier to connect with your body -- Sissy 

Old men should always remember sunblockYou Should Have Left

The Laws of Man & Morals

Removing a body from a cemetery is both illegal AND sacrilegious Phantom of the Mall: Eric’s Revenge

The Dos & Don’ts (actually, just don’ts) of Flirting

Trust me: sisters do not ever want to have a threesome with you House of Darkness 

Fatherly and flirty is not the sexy combination you think it is Bad Things 

Pushing a fully clothed woman into a hot tub is only acceptable if rain is in the forecast — As the Village Sleeps

The Art of Self Defense 

Guns are powerful, but have you ever tried just heating up a bottle of vegetable oil?Jackals

When trying to escape from a violent man, the best exit is to run straight into his chestThe 7th Hunt 

Never underestimate a former Girl Scout — Influencer

Introduction to Filmmaking

Nothing helps to meet that runtime more effectively than a montage taken seriouslyHouse of 9

Nothing moves a plot faster than a need for insulin — Deadly Games

When in doubt, send in Max Von Sydow Citizen X

There is an endless selection of mildly creepy cartoons available through the public domain 

— Skinamarink 

New Jobs for Old Materials

Cling wrap is a broken leg's best friend — Sick

Duct tape: don't babysit without it -- Better Watch Out 

Handy Tips for Home Owners

Bears can't break through bulletproof windows The Girl In Cabin 13 

Dungeons do not officially count towards the square footage of a home on a standard real estate listing — Barbarian

America: Land of Diversity

Gasoline works differently in the midwest Children of the Corn 2023 

Illinois teenagers have great memories when it comes to 3rd grade science lessons, but terrible instincts when it comes to understanding the very concept of time — Munger Road 

People in LA are far less patronizing than those in Oregon Bit

When dining in Texas, avoid eating oysters in bulk Quicksand

Parenting for Dummies

Selling weed is one way to pay child support#HoldYourBreath 

Little Known Facts About Interior Design

Yes, the eyeball of any creepy painting is always watching you. Just accept itKadaver

Med School: Year One

Medication is great and all but have you ever just tried tickling to reduce panic attacks? — Nocebo 

The ethics of sleep study doctor/patient relationships are, to say the least, muddy — Come True 

C-sections are pretty intuitive operations for non-medical professionals, even in the middle of a forest during a blizzard — Snow White: A Tale of Terror

Fun & Games

You don't have to be a dysfunctional family to be further divided by a game of Scrabble The Strays

Predictions for a Better Tomorrow

The future may be a dark place where doctors misdiagnose patients without any consequence, but at least we can take comfort in knowing that not only are there multiple variations of nachos, there's also a lot of haunted house-set porn Dual 

A viral apocalypse is no reason to let your hair lose its bounce Patient Zero

In & Around the Education System

The higher the school spirit, the better the bake sale — Disturbing Behavior

When your career takes a downturn, your alma mater may downgrade your status from "Harvard alum" to "former Harvard graduate" Down

You can do a lot of bad things at a frat party, but spilling beer on angora is an unforgivable offense  — Decoys 

Grad students aren't supposed to be good-looking — Decoys 2: The Second Seduction 

No frat party is complete without a fresh vegetable spread — One Missed Call

People, People Who Need People

Nothing is less pleasant than an obsessive coder — Escape the Field

Fashion Forever

When planning a robbery, always wear comfortable athletic clothes (you know, in case the tables are turned and you're left playing the most dangerous game) Hounded

Bullet-proof vests don't fit well under Miracle BrasCopycat

Wearing a sweatshirt is a sign of weakness — Resurrection

School for the Obvious

Details matter in every act of creation, whether you're writing a song or sewing a creepy doll — The Follower

Crazy idea, I know, but hear me out: if you discover a gooey glowing substance eating away at many layers of metal, perhaps the best course of action is not to touch it — Sea Fever


The dirtier your research facilities, the more revolutionary the research Breeder

The Opposite of Science!

The bigger the curse, the better the flowers — Offseason 

Food & Beverage Adjacent

Poisonous berries don't taste much worse than power bars The Aviary

A good detective never wastes a half-eaten banana  Death Count

The first taste of moonshine is never good, but keep going and the chest hair will grow — In the Year 2889

Don't knock eating placenta until, well, you're starving and have nothing to eat but placenta


There are few ways to die that are sadder than doing so in the middle of boiling frozen hot dogs

The Innocents