JANUARY 24, 2012
I know, I’m super late with these. I’ve had some real life annoyances to deal with, plus some side jobs (I even got paid for one!), so it’s the sort of “extra” thing that kept getting pushed off and almost forgotten. So I apologize, but believe me – it’ll be worth the wait!
You’ve had enough ado, so I won’t further it: let’s celebrate the Best and Worst of 2011!!
(note – as always, these movies reflect the 365+ films watched/ reviewed for HMAD in the calendar year, NOT when they came out. If you want a more traditional list, head over to Bloody Disgusting.)
BEST MOVIE ABOUT THE PLAGUE: BLACK DEATH
One of the year’s best films, Christopher Smith’s (Severance, Triangle) men on a mission tale about a group of badasses (led by Sean Bean) seeking out a supposed “plague-free” zone was unfortunately given one of Magnolia’s weird “let’s put it On Demand before dumping it in 6 theaters” releases – it’s a gorgeous film that deserved to be seen on the big screen. But on the other hand, I’m happy someone picked it up at all; there’s not much overt horror, and anything that plays on religious fears can cause some trouble. It also has one of the darkest endings to a film in recent memory. Smith continues to impress – let’s get him a mid-level studio feature!
WORST MOVIE ABOUT THE PLAGUE: SEASON OF THE WITCH
There’s a lot of reasons to dislike Season of the Witch – it’s not particularly good, it confines all of its supernatural elements to the final half hour, and Cage is playing it straight for once, instead of “Caging out” and turning this into Medieval Wicker Man. But the worse was that it came out a few weeks before the infinitely more enjoyable Drive Angry, killing what little interest anyone had in Cage at that point. So this thing made nearly 30 million (still not impressive), while Drive Angry didn’t even hit 10. His next film actually more or less went straight to video, for the record. Let’s hope Ghost Rider 2 rejuvenates the public’s interest in one of our most entertainingly ridiculous actors.
BEST USE OF DANIELLE HARRIS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE: STAKE LAND
Despite being the biggest genre name in the cast, Ms. Harris doesn’t show up until around the halfway point of Stake Land, and then barely speaks for another 20 minutes. But she’s quite good in the film, well outside of her comfort zone in that she plays an expectant mother AND sings on-screen (something she is terrified of). Also, her genre history pays off in the film’s third act, which goes against what you might expect from the character AND the actress.
WORST USE OF HARRIS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE: CHROMESKULL
Can anyone explain what exactly Harris’ character is doing in the middle of a Laid To Rest sequel? She pops up as some sort of higher-up at Chromeskull’s company (you heard me), and is seemingly using ol’ Jesse to jockey for a promotion. Yes, because when you watch a Chromeskull movie, you want to see corporate intrigue. I assume they have more plans for her in future installments, but her scenes here just add to the sequel’s biggest problem – it’s called CHROMESKULL and yet the guy is kept on the sidelines for far too much of the runtime.
MOST IMPROVED SEQUEL: WRONG TURN 4: BLOODY BEGINNINGS
I LOATHED the 3rd Wrong Turn film, and so when I heard the same director (Declan O’Brien) was not only returning to direct but also write it himself, AND that it would be a prequel set in the snow, I figured this was the actual recipe for the worst horror movie of all time. But I guess all those negatives equaled a positive; while still far from the heights of Wrong Turn 2, this one delivered a lot of great (and mostly practical!) kills, a fast pace, and the most wonderfully silly climax in recent memory. Not a good movie by any means, but it hits the sweet spot for this sort of thing.
LEAST IMPROVED SEQUEL: SOMEBODY HELP ME 2
The original Somebody Help Me was the first movie I was given specifically for review on Horror Movie A Day, but I didn’t think too much of it, which is probably why they didn’t send me the sequel. But they made the right call; this is infinitely worse than its predecessor, with repetitious, kill-free plotting, obnoxious direction, and a killer who wears a mask in some scenes even though we know who it is (same guy as the original). Please don’t let there be a third, as threatened.
BEST MOVIE ABOUT JEFFREY DAHMER: DAHMER
Go-to franchise rejuvenator Jeremy Renner got an early break in this independent serial killer biopic (from the same company that gave us Gacy and all those others), and he’s pretty damn great in it. The movie doesn’t provide much context – it’s best viewed by those who are already familiar with the case – but the above average attention to detail and Renner’s performance make up for its low points.
WORST MOVIE ABOUT JEFFREY DAHMER: THE SECRET LIFE
Shot only a year after Dahmer’s arrest, this is like the complete opposite of Renner’s film – they provide a Cliff’s Notes account of the case sans any sort of insight, and tell the story via the lousiest collection of actors ever assembled for one of these things. Add in the constant, obnoxious voiceover and complete lack of detail (so many palm trees in Milwaukee!) and you have a movie that manages to be even crasser than the subject matter demanded.
BEST ASYLUM MOCKBUSTER: WHEN A KILLER CALLS
Not only is this infinitely better than the 2006 remake of When A Stranger Calls, I think it’s actually a bit better than the 1979 original as well (based on memory - haven't seen it since I was like 14, but I didn't like it). Like the remake, it keeps everything based around the first 20 minutes of the original, except here the body count is higher (nothing happened in the remake) and it’s surprisingly grim – not one but two kids are offed by our killer. And it even has a theme song, so I’m automatically in its corner.
WORST ASYLUM MOCKBUSTER: HILLSIDE CANNIBALS
I’m not as crazy about the 2006 Hills Have Eyes remake as many of my peers (it’s good, but the things they changed were for the worse, so just stick w/the original IMO), but it’s the friggin Exorcist compared to this thing, which doesn’t even come close to the very low standards of “OK for Asylum”. A straight up ripoff of the other movie would have been better than this, which kills everyone off in the first 10 minutes and then proceeds to tread water for the next 70. Ugly and boring, it’s the sort of movie everyone probably thinks ALL Asylum movies are like, when in reality it’s only like, half of them.
BEST MOVIE WITH A BAD TITLE: MANSQUITO
The title Mansquito sounds like something that would be made up for a comedic film making fun of 50s horror movies, but it’s a real movie from 2004 – and a pretty fun one at that! Taking cues from The Fly, we follow a slowly turning female victim, giving us the human drama that a good horror movie needs and often ignores. But, there’s also a fully formed Mansquito that goes around killing folks, so we still get a lot of monster action – it’s the best of both worlds! And then of course they fight at the end, which is always awesome. A shame more Syfy movies don’t follow this one’s lead.
WORST MOVIE WITH A GOOD TITLE: SHORT NIGHT OF GLASS DOLLS
Now, this isn’t a BAD movie, but that title is so damn creepy and weird; at the time I referred to it as “The Giallo-est title ever”. But they use it on a rather slow-paced, barely horror movie about a guy investigating his girlfriend’s disappearance. There isn’t even a killer per se, a couple of folks die but by different hands, and until the 3rd act it’s just pretty damn boring, honestly. And the title has almost nothing to do with the plot, making its misuse even more annoying.
BEST BATSHIT MOTIVE: CONTAMINATION .7
We’ve heard of nature strikes back movies like Long Weekend or Frogs, but this one goes the extra mile, with killer trees specifically going after loggers and such, seeking revenge against them for harming their habitat. By the time a cut down Christmas tree goes after someone in their own home, you can be assured that you are watching a truly inspired film.
WORST BATSHIT MOTIVE: BEAR
Since they used a real bear and no CGI, Bear could have been a decent survival thriller about folks fending off an angry bear if not for its jaw-droppingly awful script, topped off with a “twist” at the end in which we discover that the bear actually wants these people to atone for their sins (embezzling, infidelity, etc). And it’s played straight, as if anyone in the audience might go “Ohhhh… yeah, I GET it, man.” It’s almost worth watching just to see how straight they play this inanity, but the hateful, idiotic characters and repetitive, poorly edited action make that a hard sell.
BEST MOVIE ABOUT A RAPIST LANDLORD: SLEEP TIGHT
I couldn’t make any of the screenings of Sleep Tight (Spanish: Mientras Duermes) at Fantastic Fest, and had to opt for a screener viewing on my computer instead of one of the greatest movie theaters in the world, but in a way that helps clarify just how well this creepy thriller works. An ugly transfer on a relatively tiny screen couldn’t diminish the impact of Jaume Balagueró’s best solo effort yet, and I can’t wait to see it again – hopefully with a crowd, so I can amuse myself by watching them squirm as the plot unfolds.
WORST MOVIE ABOUT A RAPIST LANDLORD: THE RESIDENT
Even in the glory years of Hammer they produced some clunkers, but nothing was ever as bad as The Resident, a woefully stupid account of Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s disturbed landlord going to extreme measures to bang Hilary Swank, even though she seems into him. Featuring cinema’s all time most idiotic “let’s show you stuff from earlier in the movie now that it has a different context” montage, nonsensical character actions, and the total waste of Christopher Lee (he was treated better in the theatrical cut of Return of the King), this is NOT the sort of thing Hammer should be putting their name on as they try to get back into the horror game after a lengthy absence.
MOST TERRIFYING USE OF SPORTING EQUIPMENT: FINAL DESTINATION 5
Even detractors of the series often admit that the kills in the Final Destination movies are creative and enjoyably insane, and given that this is the FIFTH in the series, it’s sort of impressive that they can still come up with new ones. Even more impressive that it would have one of the series’ best – a typically Rube Goldberg-ian sequence centered around a gymnasts’ balancing beam that produces the most mangled corpse ever. There should be a Sniglet for my resulting mix of a laugh and a horrified groan.
LEAST TERRIFIYING USE OF SPORTING EQUIPMENT: STORMHOUSE
The climax of this already obnoxiously bad movie came down to a haunted fucking basketball bouncing around HARD in an attempt to make it scarier. Note – this was not played for laughs.
BEST NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD MOVIE: NOTLD 1990
Back in February I inexplicably decided to watch nothing but Night of the Living Dead related movies for the week (except for Rubber, which was a press screening that they refused to change for my sake), and most of them weren’t worth the effort. But Tom Savini’s remake (which I had seen as a kid) holds up fairly well – it’s not as tense or scary as the original, but it gets more right than wrong. And crucify me all you want – I prefer his ending to Romero’s (which is also his - George wrote the remake’s script, not Savini). And any movie that features an immolated Bill Butler can’t be too bad.
WORST NOTLD MOVIE: NOTLD 30th ANNIVERSARY
I bought this thing back when it came out in 1998, only to hear how bad it was before I ever got a chance to watch it. Thus, I vowed to hang onto it and thus keep anyone else from being exposed to it (the DVD is a limited release). However when I got this “Week of NOTLD” idea I realized the time had come to see for myself if it was really as bad as I heard. So I was surprised to see they were wrong – it was FAR WORSE than anyone had ever led me to believe. I’d comfortably call it one of the five worst movies ever made, in fact; the insanely misguided decisions that John Russo and the others (not Romero) made go beyond awful, where it’s not even funny to watch in the “Plan 9” way. When Russo croaks I hope they bury every copy of this piece of shit with him.
BEST ATTEMPT AT MAKING A JOHN CARPENTER MOVIE: ATTACK THE BLOCK
Joe Cornish’s debut succeeds in pretty much every area one could want from a film: it’s funny, it’s scary, it’s got terrific, crowd-pleasing action, and it moves like gangbusters – if there’s a dull moment in the film no one can remember it. And it’s knowingly inspired by no less a great than John Carpenter; the opening shot of the alien ship is a direct homage to The Thing, and the confined setting is right out of several of JC’s flicks. Plus, the protagonists are enemies on opposite sides of the law who are forced to team up to defeat their common enemy; which is straight up Assault On Precinct 13 (or, fine, Ghosts of Mars). One of my favorite movie-going experiences of the year – and the only film I paid to see a 2nd time.
WORST ATTEMPT AT MAKING A CARPENTER MOVIE: THE THING
For years fans have been scoffing – yet mildly intrigued – by the idea of a Thing prequel, showing what happened to the Norwegians even though we know that they’re all dead. However, constant attempts to make their film fit into Carpenter’s story (“SEE how the axe got into the door! LEARN the name of the guy who slit his wrist and froze!”) just make all of their missteps all the more obvious. The bad CGI is the most offensive, but I was more troubled by the lack of a single interesting or fun character. I’d pay handsomely for a Childs or Blair action figure; I couldn’t even tell you the names of any of the characters here. They should have just abandoned the prequel idea and made it a remake (which they sort of did, actually) – at least then we wouldn’t have to accept this Thing as part of the canon.
BEST INCOHERENT MOVIE FROM 1989: THINGS
Every even numbered minute of this movie will make you laugh or smile, every odd numbered one will make you shout “WHAT?”. Spider sandwiches, bizarre dubbing, a newscaster who seems to be reporting on plot developments that haven’t occurred yet… it’s just pure, insane bliss.
WORST INCOHERENT MOVIE FROM 1989: THE BLACK CAT
Most Italian horror movies don’t make a lot of sense, but even by their standards The Black Cat is a total mess. “Luckily” if you can’t follow a particular plot thread, it will probably get dropped and never mentioned again, since that’s what happens to most of them – it starts off as one of those “movies about movies” but ends with some sort of wizard battle involving planets. And I know that sounds kind of awesome, but it’s actually crushingly dull and shockingly low on gore/kills, which is probably why it remains relatively obscure despite some weird attempts to fit it into Argento’s Three Mothers series. P.S. not to be confused with Fulci’s 1981 Black Cat!
BEST MOVIE ABOUT SOLDIERS GOING NUTS: DEATHWATCH
I’ve heard about Deathwatch here and there over the years, and it’s been recommended by more than one reader – not sure what took me so long to get around to it. But it was worth the wait, upsetting and scary, with terrific performances by a mostly unknown (for 2002) cast, it’s the sort of movie that keeps me doing HMAD. Without the need to watch something every day, gems like this would continue to pass me by.
WORST MOVIE ABOUT SOLDIERS GOING NUTS: THE SQUAD
Hearing so many great things about Fantastic Fest over the years, I was under the assumption that no bad/generic movies squeaked through, but The Squad was obnoxiously starved for creativity, not to mention even basic scares or suspense. The only time I actually dozed off the entire time I was at the festival (regular readers should understand how much that means under normal circumstances – I was barely sleeping there!), and it wasn’t worth fighting to stay awake for the rest.
BEST HORROR MOVIE A DAY NEWS: MIDNIGHT SCREENINGS
For a while it looked like the Horror Movie A Day screening series at the New Beverly would come to an end due to some personnel issues at the theater, but as of April they have been resumed and even more frequent! And we’ve shown lots of great stuff, including Psycho II (with Dean Cundey in the house for Q&A!), From Dusk Till Dawn, Drag Me To Hell, and a sparsely attended but still glorious showing of The Descent, which is my favorite horror film of the decade. To everyone that has come to one or all of them – you are forever in my cool book. See you in 2012!
WORST HORROR MOVIE A DAY NEWS: NO MORE “EXTRAS”
Due to some staff cutbacks at my real job, I had to take on more work responsibilities. As a result, a lot of the extra stuff I liked to do – commentaries, “October Extras”, non-canon reviews, etc – had to be greatly reduced or eliminated entirely. I also wrote fewer full reviews for festivals I attended - there just wasn’t time for them anymore alongside everything else, because the time I used to spend doing extra stuff at work was now spent doing work (assholes!). It’s a bummer; I enjoyed giving you guys a little more than just the daily review (within reason; I never want to post “news” or interviews here), but alas, I just can’t do it anymore. I mean, look how long it took to get this up!
Of course, next month marks the amazing FIVE YEAR anniversary of Horror Movie A Day, and thus along with it the five year anniversary of daily horror watching (February 16th, 2007 remains the only missed day), so that’s pretty awesome. We’ll also hit some milestones within the genres (200th monster movie! 100th Italian horror movie!) and hopefully provide the same amount (if not more) of festival coverage – as always, money dictates those things so be sure to do all of your Amazon shopping HERE, or just hand me 100 dollars cash if you see me out and about! I also accept baked goods.
And of course, thanks for reading! Without you I’d be talking to myself even more than usual!
What say you?