The Best Horror Films of 2011
An author, filmmaker, and journalist working in the horror genre, Jovanka Vuckovic is Revolver's resident fright-flick guru, the writer of each magazine's "Splatter Matters" column, which kicked off in the new, 100th issue. She was recently named one of the top 10 most important women in the history of horror. For more, visit jovankavuckovic.com and follow her at @JovankaVuckovic on Twitter.
What better way to ring in the New Year than with a little godless onscreen violence? As always, last year there were plenty of pointless-yet-entertaining big-budget remakes (The Thing, Fright Night 3D, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, Straw Dogs), sequels (Paranormal Activity 3, Scream 4, Wrong Turn 4, Final Destination 5), and other genre-bending fare at the multiplexes (127 Hours, Super 8, Attack the Block, The Darkest Hour, Contagion). Then there were the big misses (Season of the Witch, Priest, The Rite, Red Riding Hood, Apollo 18, Dream House), which came and went like a fart in the wind. The original horror films--the ones that made this list anyway--lurked around the independent scene. Of course, that, too, is a mixed bag. There were movies I really wanted to like but didn’t (Red State, Burke & Hare, The Ward) and others I wish I could un-see (The Human Centipede 2, A Serbian Film). Then there was the abysmal straight-to-DVD drivel, which you should take care to avoid entirely (Hellraiser: Revelations, The Howling: Reborn). I’ve waded through the good, the bad, and the ugly to bring you a list of the year’s finest genre films. Here they are, in no particular order. Happy New Year!
The Skin I Live In
Directed by Pedro Almodóvar
Antonio Banderas stars as a research scientist who has developed a synthetic skin that he’s using on a guinea pig whom he alters to look like his dead wife. Obvious comparisons to Eyes Without a Face aside, The Skin I Live In is a unique, melodramatic art-house horror film that reveals its shocking secrets slowly. Not since David Cronenberg have surgery, sex, and violence frolicked in the same stained bed so skillfully. A must see.
Martha Marcy May Marlene
Directed by Sean Durkin
Elizabeth Olsen (yes, the younger sister of the Olsen twins) walks the line between sanity and madness in a breakthrough performance as Martha, an ex-cult member who tries to re-enter polite society after having been brainwashed to ignore social values. Told in a style that’s reminiscent of Michael Haneke’s Funny Games, Martha Marcy May Marlene divided critics at festivals due to its ambiguous ending. Powerful and unsettling.
I Saw the Devil
Directed by Jee-woon Kim
A serial killer (played by Old Boy’s Min-sik Choi) gets more than he bargained for when he kills the fiancée of a prominent special agent in this highly stylized, savage thriller from the director of A Tale of Two Sisters. Seeking vengeance, the grieving cop kidnaps his wife’s murderer, tortures him a little, then frees him only to track him down and torture him over and over again. Worth the price of admission for the wildly creative (and brutally bloody) taxicab scene alone. Merciless, uncompromising, and unforgettable.
Directed by Lucky McKee
Feminist filmmaker Lucky McKee (The Woods, May) examines the horrors of misogyny is this incendiary intellectual revenge film (co-written with Jack Ketchum) about a handsome family man and successful lawyer who kidnaps a feral woman and chains her up in the cellar. Beautiful, bizarre, and barbaric. As a primer, you can watch this video of a viewer’s extreme reaction to The Woman at the Sundance Film Festival.
Directed by André Øvredal
What do you get when you combine Cloverfield with Nordic Trolls? This very funny monster mockumentary. I know what you’re thinking: Trolls? Really? Just see it. And when you do, watch it with Norwegian subtitles lest you miss some great voice performances in this foreign creature feature. Great fun.
Directed by Shion Sono
A teenaged girl takes a job at a fish store owned and operated by a couple who turn out to be much more than fish mongers. If you’re familiar with Shion Sono’s work (Suicide Circle, Love Exposure), then you already know what to expect from Cold Fish. This is totally bent Asia extreme serial-killer cinema at its best--equal parts disturbing and blackly comic. Make time for it, though, because like Sono’s other films, it’s overlong.
Tucker and Dale vs. Evil
Directed by Eli Craig
In this, the Three’s Company of horror comedies, two redneck buffoons run afoul of a gaggle of teen partygoers on spring break who misjudge the hillbillies as a threat. Grave misunderstandings give way to fountains of unintended violence. Hilarity ensues.
Directed by Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani
This film has been doing the festival circuit since 2009 but became available on Blu-ray this year, and, boy, is it ever a doozy. If the films of Mario Bava and Dario Argento could make a love child, Amer would be it. A dizzying, non-narrative, near dialogue-free art-house experiment in avant-garde filmmaking, Amer shares as much in common with Un chien andalou as it does Strip Nude for Your Killer. Lush eye candy or psychosexual nightmare? You decide.
Directed by Jim Mickle
Director Jim Mickle (Mulberry Street) retrieves the vampire’s balls from the Twilight franchise with this gory apocalyptic road movie. It’s about an orphan who travels through a vampire-ravaged America with a hunter known only as “Mister” on their way to find the last place of possibly unspoiled humanity. Imagine The Road meets True Grit meets I Am Legend on a very low budget and you’re sort of there. (Read Revolver's interview with Stake Land actor and co-writer Nick Damici here.)
We Are What We Are
Directed by Jorge Michel Grau
An impoverished family of cannibals struggles to find new meat when their patriarch dies. Sound familiar? Although obviously reminiscent of Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Jorge Michel Grau’s We Are What We Are is its own beast. A thoughtful but flawed exploration of the collapse of familial roles amidst a landscape of social decay in Mexico, We Are What We Are is more than the sum of its, er…parts.
Directed by Justin Kurzel
One of the many feel-bad movies of the year, Snowtown is a true crime film that centers on the unusual relationship between sixteen-year-old Jamie and his newfound father figure, John Bunting, who happens to be Australia’s most prolific serial killer--bodies in barrels and all. This is his Jamie’s harrowing story.
Directed by Howard J. Ford and Jonathan Ford
Following a zombie outbreak in Africa, Lt. Brian Murphy tries to make his way home in this beautifully shot, slow moving road movie. The Dead evokes classic George Romero with its political commentary and pacing, but most importantly, it succeeds at making slow moving zombies scary again. Great visuals.
Directed by Ti West
Ti West’s lighthearted spookfest about two employees (and amateur ghost hunters) putting in their last shift at a century old haunted inn was a crowd-pleaser on the film festival circuit last year. It isn’t actually being released in theatres until February 3, 2012, but it hit VOD on December 30th so I encourage you to order it. Support independent filmmaking. Please don’t torrent.
We Need to Talk About Kevin
Directed by Lynne Ramsay
OK, so it’s not a horror movie per se, but it’s by far the most depressing film of the year. Tilda Swinton stars as a grieving mother who has raised a misanthropic sociopath (played by Ezra Miller) who tortured her and her family before going on a killing spree at his high school. A deeply disturbing dramatic thriller not for the faint of heart.
Honorable Mentions: Rubber, Absentia, The Last Circus, Wake Wood, Hobo with a Shotgun, Black Death, Insidious.
*All films were released in North America in the 2011 calendar year.