The Best Horror Films of 2012
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. 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.
Another year in fear has come to pass and it’s time to sit back and reflect on what initially appeared to be a low point in the cyclical history of horror. Some years the genre enjoys tremendous success in the mainstream, while others years it must be sought out in the trenches of the independent scene and in foreign markets. But it never goes away, and it never will. As long as we are able to make art that helps us know the unknowable, experience the unimaginable, and venture safely to oblivion and back, there will always be horror films. The trouble is finding the ones that are worth watching. That, intrepid cinematic travellers, is my responsibility to you here at Revolver.
At first it seemed an insurmountable task to find even 10 films I felt worthy of inclusion on this list. A cursory glance back at the year’s major releases yields a grim survey of unwatchable dreck: The Devil Inside, The Possession, ATM, Dark Shadows, The Apparition, Piranha 3DD, and The Chernobyl Diaries. Then there were the movies that had promise but just couldn’t quite rescue themselves from suffocating mediocrity and/or poor storytelling: Silent House, The Woman in Black, Sinister (a rip off of 2007’s The Poughkeepsie Tapes), The Pact, Rec3(way to take that “scary” of that franchise, boys), and Ridley Scott’s gorgeous yet frustrating Prometheus.
Expectedly, things got brighter (or darker?) as I dug through the lesser-known titles, which tend to populate my list every year. And why not? Where’s the value in giving you the same list everyone else does? Do you really need another film journalist to tell you that Cabin in the Woods was “clever” or ParaNorman was “cute?” Respectfully, no.
To that end, I hereby present this year’s selection of truly original and exemplary horror films. Well, some of them can barely even be categorized as horror films but were still far more unnerving than Paranormal Activity 4. As always, I invite your unbridled outrage and endless nitpicking. I’ll even bring the popcorn.
Happy New Year!
*All films had a formal North American release in the 2012 calendar
Directed by Richard Bates Jr.
It’s tough being a teenager, especially when you’re a sociopath and you’re on your period. Pauline (AnnaLynne McCord) is a deranged high school student who dreams of becoming a surgeon, having sex with dead people, and doing both at the same time. Based on the short film of the same name, Excision is a grueling character study about female psychosis that takes its cues from the films of John Hughes, Dario Argento, and Alejandro Jodorowsky. If you liked Lucky McKee’s May (2006), you’ll love Excision’s quiet, demented genius.
Directed by Brandon Cronenberg
Yes, that Cronenberg. Now that we’ve addressed the elephant in the room we can move on to what’s important: With his auspicious directorial debut, Brandon Cronenberg delivers a truly unique vision of subtle science fiction and "body horror." Antiviral takes place in a dystopian universe in which diseases are harvested from celebrities and injected into paying fans. It was a winner at Cannes and TIFF, yet hardly anyone went to see it when it was released this past year in Canada. Don’t make the same mistake the Canadians did: If you want to see more original horror films made, go see Antiviral when it is released this year in the United States. It’s the shot in the arm the genre so desperately needs.
Directed by Jennifer Chambers Lynch
I love Jennifer Lynch. It takes balls to blaze your own trail outside of the shadow of your famous father. I admire her because she makes horror movies. I admire her because she tried to make a horror movie while surrounded by men in India and did it with a smile on her face most of the time (see the amazing documentary, Despite the Gods, about that experience). But mostly I admire her because she makes the movies that she wants to make. Case in point: Chained. You may have missed Lynch’s gritty serial killer drama because it initially got slapped with an NC-17, a film board rating that spells abortion for any movie awaiting theatrical release. In the film, Vincent D’Onofrio plays a serial killer who kidnaps a little boy, renames him Rabbit, and holds him captive for many years. Despite its unpleasant subject matter, Chained is Lynch’s best effort to date--a dead serious and unflinching portrayal of real-life horror that we can’t help seeing through to its unconventional end. Bravo, Jen.
Directed by Jaume Balagueró
Maybe you have to be a woman who has lived alone to fully appreciate the nastiness of Sleep Tight because this movie crept up on me like a rash that wouldn’t go away. Jaume Balagueró is most well known as one half of the filmmaking team that brought us the first two [REC] films and director of the flawed but stylish Spanish thrillers The Fragile (2005) and Darkness (2002). In this suspenseful portrait of madness, Luis Tosar stars as César, a concierge who enjoys secretly tormenting the tenants of his building. He takes a special interest in bubbly young Clara (Marta Etura) and literally stops at nothing to wipe the smile off her face forever. Sleep Tight is similar to the 2011 Hammer film The Tenant, but much more creepy and not starring Hilary Swank.
Directed by Eduardo Sanchez
If you have an imagination, this film is for you. If, on the other hand, you are one of those people that needs to be spoon-fed safe explanations, go see Wreck-It Ralph and forget this ambiguous little gem. Back in 1999, Eduardo Sánchez shot to fame when he co-directed The Blair Witch Project with Daniel Myrick. Since then they’ve been making films on their own, with mixed results. Lovely Molly is Sánchez’ best film to date--a grimy character study that wisely eschews the overused (and flaccid) jump scare in favour of slow, tension-building storytelling bolstered by a strong performance from newcomer Gretchen Lodge (Molly). In short: Molly moves back into her childhood home, which triggers painful memories that cause her to unravel. While I think it could lose the “handheld” element, Lovely Molly has all the same qualities that make films like The Entity and Session 9 so damned creepy.
Directed by Craig Zobel
I hated this movie. It made me so angry I almost turned it off. Not because it wasn’t well made but because it is based on a series of outrageously unbelievable true events. A manager of a fast food restaurant receives a call from a man claiming to be a police officer. He insists that the cute blonde employee (Dreama Walker) at the front counter has stolen money from a customer and needs to be restrained, undressed, and eventually assaulted by the staff. Unfuckingbelievably, most of them buy the guy’s story and do as he says--including the victim! I know, it’s hard to believe anyone could be that contemptuously ignorant, it even feels like an episode of that show What Would You Do? But it turns out this phone prank actually happened at no less than 70--SEVENTY!--fast food chains in 30 States, according to Wikipedia. Compliance is an immensely frustrating film that illustrates just how dangerously stupid some people can be.
Beyond the Black Rainbow
Directed by Panos Cosmatos
Strictly for the more adventurous filmgoer, Beyond the Black Rainbow is an experimental art film that can be best described as sci-fi/horror “happening.” Aesthetically (and that’s the strength of this exercise, for the most part), it’s as if the ’70s dreamt what the ’80s might be like, complete with weird thumping synth music, 2001 sets, Mario Bava-style lighting, and glacial pacing. The plot, as it were: Barry Nyle has a young girl called Elena trapped in some kind of psychological torture chamber within a byzantine quasi-futuristic commune called Arboria. When she finally escapes, he hunts her down in a bizarre, quasi-slasher film dénouement that comes completely out of nowhere. The influence of Ken Russell, David Cronenberg, Stanley Kubrick, David Lynch, Alejandro Jodorowsky, and a dozen other filmmakers loom large over this film, which is assuredly a triumph of style over substance. Still, I can’t help but shake some of the disturbing images from my head. Go in with an extremely open mind and lots of patience.
Directed by Ciaran Foy
Tommy (Aneurin Barnard) suffers from severe post-traumatic stress disorder and agoraphobia following an attack on and death of his very pregnant wife. The baby survived, only to be left in the care of Tommy, who is an absolute emotional and psychological wreck of a man. Not only can he barely leave his run down Glasgow tenement, he also believes he is being stalked by the same gang of hooded demonic feral children who killed his wife--and are now after his baby. Citadel is a flawed but effective commentary about socio-economical collapse and the need for urban renewal in the United Kingdom. There is something immensely upsetting about Tommy’s display of detestable male weakness and inability to parent his tiny baby that keeps us watching in the hopes that he will eventually grow a pair. Worth watching.
Juan of the Dead
Directed by Alejandro Brugués
50 years after the Cuban revolution a bunch of Havana slackers get creative to battle a zombie outbreak in Juan of the Dead, Cuba’s first zombie film. The media and government quickly spread disinformation: The “infected” are merely “dissidents” in revolt that must be stopped. Juan and his friends see a business opportunity in retiring the recently turned people in this absolutely hilarious and original zombie satire of Cuban life. Bonus point for wildly inventive zombie kills. It even has a totally bonkers dance scene!
Directed by Chul-soo Jang
Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. And while this slow South Korean female revenge film isn’t I Spit On Your Grave or Thriller: A Cruel Picture, there is something deeply unsettling about this quiet melodrama--perhaps because the perpetrators themselves are family. The entire family to be precise: grandmothers, aunts, uncles and children alike. Kim Bok-Nam is abused and humiliated night and day on the tiny island of Moodo. When her childhood friend Hae-Won returns from Seoul for a holiday, Kim Bok-Nam begs her to take her daughter back with her, but she won’t. Although there are plenty of male abusers in the story, it is the sick relationships and special brand of ferocious cruelty that occurs between women that takes center stage in Bedevilled. And when the inevitable happens, there is no sympathy for this lady’s vengeance.
Honorable mentions: Killer Joe, John Dies at the End, Father’s Day, Absentia, The Bay, and the anthologies The Theatre Bizarre and V/H/S.