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2011: The Year in Horror

Whatever else the year 2011 may have been, I think I can safely categorize it as a rotten year for horror movies. I know there were some hits, but I won’t pretend that INSIDIOUS left me anything other than lukewarm, or that PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3 wasn’t total crap. And as you’ll see below, I wasn’t too enamored with most of the remakes Hollywood so loves (and nor, based on the box office returns of the new FRIGHT NIGHT, CONAN THE BARBARIAN and STRAW DOGS, were the majority of the moviegoing public). For that matter, non-horror themed critics’ darlings like HUGO, THE ARTIST and YOUNG ADULT didn’t do much for me either.
 
    What follows is my listing of the best and worst horror flicks of 2011, along with some non-horror movie recommendations and worthwhile genre flicks from years past that debuted on DVD in 2011. As always, to keep the list manageable I’ve only included films commercially released theatrically or on DVD within the United States, with festival screenings excluded. I was unable to see every horror movie of 2011--the reason the latest FINAL DESTINATION, THE TWILIGHT SAGA: BREAKING DAWN and DYLAN DOG aren’t mentioned--but I do believe the following represents a good representation of last year’s horror output.

     And with that, let’s get started with…

The Best:

1. BELLFLOWER
This hallucinatory shocker was sold as an actioner, but I doubt many Jason Statham fans will find BELLFLOWER’S mix of visual experimentation and psychological horror too edifying. The film, a no-budget labor of love for writer-director-star Evan Glodell, was lensed on location in the sun-baked wastelands of Ventura County, CA. It’s in this bleak environ that Woodrow (Glodell) and his pal Aiden (Tyler Dawson) live out a booze-shrouded MAD MAX inspired dystopian fantasy. All that changes when Woodrow meets the seductive Milly (Jessie Wiseman), for whom he falls hard. The two eek out a tentative romance during an impromptu road trip, a coupling that continues after they arrive back home--but then Woodrow catches Milly with another guy and is severely injured in a car accident, which addles his mind irreparably. Hence the increasingly hallucinatory nature of the proceedings, which see Woodrow taking his MAD MAX fantasies a bit too literally. The film has some flaws, most of them budget-related, yet BELLFLOWER nonetheless satisfies in every department. Its verve, confidence and sheer intensity testify that Evan Glodell is an uncommonly gifted filmmaker. Plus, in a development extremely rare in no-budget cinema, the performances are quite strong: Glodell evinces real acting chops in the lead, while MIDNIGHT MOVIE’S Rebekah Brandes makes a massive impression in a supporting role.

2. TAKE SHELTER
This powerful and unsettling film is a potent reminder of what it takes to create a truly impacting horror movie: namely that its content must be presented as believably as possible, and with top-notch actors. Both are true of TAKE SHELTER, written and directed by Jeff Nichols and starring the excellent Michael Shannon. He plays a dedicated husband and father who finds himself afflicted with horrific dreams involving toxic rain and tornados, visions that gradually carry over into his waking life. Jessica Chastain is nearly as impressive as Shannon’s harried but strong-willed wife. Chastain’s acting is strong enough that I was willing to overlook her character’s more implausible actions, such as her lack of any sort of decisive action when her husband begins spending his nights ensconced in their tornado shelter and digging up the backyard to expand that shelter. Outside the strong performances the film works because of Jeff Nichols’ steadfast attention to detail in both his visuals and narrative. Nichols is careful to develop his protagonist’s insanity gradually, and always keep Shannon’s exploits grounded in financial reality (from the expensive bank loan he takes out to finance his shelter to the filching of the family vacation fund to make ends meet). Such things render the film’s more outré elements, including a violent public freak-out and the many surreal dream sequences, starkly and alarmingly convincing.

3. HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN
This in my view is exactly what we all need right now: an unapologetically excessive seventies-inspired splatter-fest! Like 2010’s MACHETE, HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN began as a fake trailer, made by Canadian director Jason Eisener as part of a contest to help promote the release of GRINDHOUSE. Eisener won the contest, and the feature version of his short, with Rutger Hauer in the title role, is very close in style and tone to the aforementioned MACHETE--only several times more over the top. Hauer plays a virtuous middle-aged hobo residing in a grungy hellhole (actually Nova Scotia, Canada) ruled by a ruthless gangster and his asshole sons; upon filching a shotgun from a pawn shop the hobo embarks on a vigilante rampage, which sets off a full fledged mini-war. Everything in this film, from the hysterical acting to the eye-burning photography to the bombastic score (which is so insistent, even in quiet scenes, that it frequently drowns out the dialogue), has been pumped up beyond the point of excess. That includes the bloodletting, which is as copious as that of any movie I’ve seen but is never too troubling, seeing as how it’s all done with a lot of campy humor. Such an approach would doubtless be irritating (as in most Troma movies) were it not for the considerable wit and invention of Mr. Eisener, who always seems to top himself at every turn and sustains an insanely high energy level from start to grim finish.

4. THE WOMAN
Adapted from a novel by Jack Ketchum and this film’s director Lucky Mckee, THE WOMAN features a cannibal gal captured by a (seemingly) mild-mannered lawyer. He chains the woman up in the basement of his house in an effort to “save” her, with the help of his loyal wife and three children. This outwardly upstanding family, you see, harbors a number of dark secrets, abuse and incest among them. THE WOMAN isn’t perfect, but is still Lucky McKee’s most satisfying film since 2002’s justly celebrated MAY. The evocative visuals, emotion-based editing (there are lots of dissolves) and imaginative sound design attest to McKee’s filmmaking prowess, while the placid aura of rural Massachusetts is perfectly evoked, making for an affecting contrast to the viciousness of the narrative. The casting is also strong, with Sean Bridgers as the charming but hopelessly demented lawyer being a particular standout, fleshing out a character who never entirely came alive in the novel, while McKee regular Angela Bettis acquits herself quite well as Cleek’s cowed wife and Pollyanna McIntosh is simply unforgettable in the title role.

5. THE LAST CIRCUS
Here we have the latest satiric gem by Spain’s demented Alex de la Iglesia, and it’s his most inspired effort in some time. In THE LAST CIRCUS the son of a circus clown is severely traumatized by the death of his father, a WWII era revolutionary. The boy grows up to become a clown, albeit a melancholy one who’s pushed around by an asshole co-worker who also regularly abuses a hot chick the protagonist loves. Iglesia takes this account in some profoundly warped directions, with an eye for the perverse and aberrant that will surely turn some viewers off but will just as surely have the rest of us hooked. Not to give anything away, but in this film love does not conquer all and the good guys don’t necessarily win--although by the end it’s not so easy to tell the “good” folk from the bad! As in all his best work, Iglesia’s comedic audacity and love of the grotesque are melded with a virtuoso filmmaking sensibility. There’s a somewhat heavy-handed political angle that drags things down a bit toward the end, but otherwise THE LAST CIRCUS gets my highest possible recommendation.

6. THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO
The Hollywoodization of the Swedish sensation THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO wreaks many predictable changes on the material: the male lead, played by the film’s sole movie star Daniel Craig, has been beefed up considerably, and some of the darker edges of the punked-out heroine (Roony Mara) have been softened. Yet the copious sex and violence, surprisingly enough, have been transposed largely intact. Maybe I shouldn't be too surprised about that latter point, as the director was Hollywood's own prince of darkness David Fincher. His DRAGON TATTOO is far more nuanced and atmospheric than its predecessor, and contains moments of profound nastiness. The acting is also uniformly terrific, with particularly good turns by Stellan Skarsgaard as the shady millionaire who sets the sordid narrative in motion and Joely Richardson as a mysterious woman whose connection with the proceedings only gradually becomes apparent. Other strong elements include an eerie techno score by Trent Reznor, gorgeously dark-hued cinematography by Jeff Cronenweth, and an awesome opening credits sequence set, appropriately enough given the snowbound setting, to a cover of Led Zeppelin's “Immigrant Song.”

7. A SERBIAN FILM (SRPSKI FILM)
2011’s gross out movie du jour, a profoundly vile and repellent compendium of sexual sadism. This film is barely a year old yet is already banned in several countries and the focus of a high profile lawsuit in its native land. It features a retired porn star roped into appearing in an avant-garde production in which, among other things, he witnesses a violent confrontation between a teenage girl and her mother, beats up a whore and views a new kind of cinema: newborn porn! Director Srdjan Spasojevic claims the film is a political allegory about life in Serbia, with the most notorious scene, depicting a newborn infant pulled from its mother’s womb and fucked, apparently meant to symbolize what Serbians experience at the hands of their leaders. Spasojevic’s considerable talent is evident in the nerve-jangling mood of horrific anticipation suffusing the early scenes, and the intensity is maintained as the proceedings grow increasingly repellent. Whether Spasojevic is justified in going as far as he does remains an open question. I’ll say this for the film: it is very likely the last word in so-called torture porn, as after A SERBIAN FILM there really aren’t many taboos left to shatter.

8. CONTAGION
This above-average disease thriller is director Steven Soderbergh’s most purely entertaining effort in quite some time. It’s fast moving and staunchly reality-based, with the details of the spread of the titular animal-based malady laid out in alarmingly convincing fashion. So too the efforts of various doctors and scientists to contain the outbreak, which quickly spreads around the world. Soderbergh handles this panoramic narrative with a strong and assured visual style, while the sharp ensemble cast helps lend a human core to this scientifically based account. On the downside, Soderbergh’s penchant for casting famous performers in small roles (including Elliot Gould and comedian Dmitry Martin) is a constant distraction, and the blaring techno score already feels dated.

9. RED STATE
Here Kevin Smith stepped far outside his comfort zone to attempt a violent and profane thriller in the Coen/Tarantino mold. The surprise is that it actually works, being gripping, shocking and consistently unpredictable. The whole thing is driven by an amazing performance by Michael Parks as a deranged preacher whose flock lures three horny teens into their compound, unleashing a shitload of trouble for everyone involved. Can the Kevin Smith who made this action-intensive film really be the same guy who gave us the no budget chat fests CLERKS and CHASING AMY? Yes, it can! Note RED STATE’S numerous lengthy monologues that in true Smith fashion are allowed to drag on interminably (the man freely admits he has a tendency to fall in love with his own verbiage). The bumfart ending also leaves much to be desired, with a climactic twist ruined by Smith’s patented tell-don’t-show aesthetic. Still, even if RED STATE isn't entirely successful, it’s definitely a step in the right direction.

10. STAKE LAND
Do we really need another zombie/vampire apocalypse movie? Frankly, no. This film, however, is so confident and stylish I won’t complain overmuch about its done-to-death subject matter. It’s about two dudes traveling across the east coast to “New Eden,” a.k.a. Canada, and getting attacked by zombies and cannibalistic religiosos along the way. In keeping with the overriding Terrence Malick(!) influence, the widescreen visuals are lush and sumptuous, and overdubbed with voiceover narration--a device I normally abhor but didn’t mind here since (as in Malick’s films) the narration is well used and quite true to the personality of the protagonist. Given the languid, visually oriented nature of the film, it’s hardly surprising that the copious gory action sequences are a tad chaotic and difficult to follow, and the narrative rather formless and episodic (this is one of those movies that seems to end several times before it actually does). Characterization, at least, is one area wherein STAKELAND excels. The protagonists are all distinct and likeable individuals, as evinced by the impact their deaths have on the viewer. You may be surprised at how much you come to care about these people, something that’s all-but unheard of in most modern horror fests, and sets this one far apart.

11. UNCLE BOONMEE WHO CAN RECALL HIS PAST LIVES (LOONG BOONMEE RALEUK CHAT)
From Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Thailand’s top director, a wildly hallucinogenic account of a Thai family living in a vast forest whose Uncle Boonmee is dying. Also residing in the area are all manner of ghosts and monsters, who make life interesting for the unassuming protagonists. The film is fascinating in its focus, precision and matter-of-fact acceptance of the supernatural, but I never found it especially compelling. The pacing is perversely slow and the film on the whole is agonizingly uneventful. Still, there’s truly nothing else quite like it, and scenes like the flashback of a princess ravaged by a catfish(!) are nothing if not impossible to forget.

12. COLD FISH (TSUMETAI NETTAIGYO)
This film, the latest by Japan’s eccentric Sion Sono, has been promoted as a serial killer thriller. That’s not entirely accurate, as for the majority of its running time COLD FISH is more of a black comedy--until the ultra-intense final half-hour, that is, when it becomes every bit the gory freak-out I was expecting. The driving force is that of the veteran Japanese performer Denden as a likeable yet hopelessly psychotic fish store owner who draws a mild-mannered suburban father (Mitsuru Fukikoshi) and the latter’s wife and daughter into his demented orbit, with unpredictable, and ultimately horrific, results. At 146 minutes the whole thing is a bit overlong and drawn-out for my tastes, although it can’t be denied that the final scenes pack quite a wallop.

13. DIE FARBE
That title means, literally, “The Color”--as in H.P. Lovecraft’s 1927 tale “The Colour out of Space,” from which this digitally lensed German production was adapted. The film suffers from a painfully low budget that is woefully insufficient to convey the story’s all-encompassing environ of decay and mutation. This devastation is due to a meteorite that crashes near a rural farm in Germany (relocated from Lovecraft’s New England setting), where it releases a malignant substance with an unearthly color that creates mutated animals and vegetation. Of those mutations all we really see, alas, are an overlarge fly and a crumbling mushroom. At least the story’s core element was brought to the screen intact: the family living in the area who are driven to madness, death and worse by the effects of the meteor. To his credit, director Huan Yu conjures a powerfully brooding atmosphere through gorgeously burnished black-and-white visuals. The most ingenious touch involves the titular color--or colour--which is portrayed by splashes of bright pink in the otherwise black-and-white palette, conveying an appropriately alien hue.

14. ATTACK THE BLOCK
A “Calling Card” movie to be sure, but a strong one. In keeping with the tenor of seemingly every other Hollywood release nowadays, this British made low budgeter is an alien invasion pic, and a much better one than SKYLINE, BATTLE: LOS ANGELES or COWBOYS AND ALIENS. The aliens here are wisely kept simple and largely indistinct, being hairy beasties with horrific glowing fangs who crash to Earth one night during a fireworks display. Their first encounter with humans is via a gang of teenage miscreants who’ve just mugged a young nurse. The ensuing series of complications see the miscreants and the nurse uneasily band together in an effort to fight the invasion, which happens to be centered in the apartment building where they all live. Simple and straightforward appear to have been first time director Joe Cornish’s guiding mantras; there’s nothing especially deep or profound here, and the proceedings are quite English-centric (meaning the copious cockney-accented slang isn’t always comprehensible), but as a no-nonsense alien scare movie Attack the Block more than delivers.

15. THE DOUBLE HOUR (LA DOPPIA ORA)
Fans of freaky Euro thrillers like OPEN YOUR EYES and SWIMMING POOL will get a kick out of this Italian mind-bender. It features an attractive young woman (the amazing Kseniya Rappoport) who believes she’s losing her mind in the wake of an assault that leaves her boyfriend dead and her in a coma--or so it seems, at least. The narrative construction is nothing if not unexpected, incorporating at least one truly head-snapping twist, a lengthy dream/hallucination sequence and a possible supernatural intrusion. I won’t divulge any more specifics, as the film’s primary charm is in its constant surprises, although I will reveal that I found the whole thing a mite half-baked and mechanical. Still, it can’t be denied that director Giuseppe Capotondi does a fine job with the material, turning in an exceedingly stylish and atmospheric film fully befitting the artistry of Kseniya Rappoport, who plays a character who alternates the guises of a wide-eyed innocent and cunning seductress.

16. RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES
Terrific old-fashioned big studio entertainment, a PLANET OF THE APES prequel that shows the apes in their earliest days. James Franco is a scientist who invents a serum that when tested on laboratory apes renders them abnormally intelligent. Long story short: one of those apes leads an uprising among his fellow downtrodden primates, resulting in widespread chaos. The script is admittedly riddled with glaring plot holes (amazingly, nobody notices the fact that a knife-equipped bottle opener just happens to go missing in an ape cage) and there’s much bad acting on the part of the supporting players, with Freda Pinto essaying the most superfluous female lead in recent memory. Still, the movie is a grabber, and quite hip (without being obnoxious) in the way it encourages us to root for the apes in the final ape-human showdown.

17. CATERPILLAR (KYATAPIRA)
Koji Wakamatsu was formerly one of Japan’s most controversial filmmakers (see ECTASTY OF THE ANGELS, VIOLATED ANGELS, EMBRYO, etc), yet in light of modern Japanese provocateurs like Shinya Tsukamoto and Takashi Miike, Wakamatsu now seems like more of an elder statesman. Nonetheless, his work remains as subversive as ever. The basis for CATERPILLAR was a perverse and bizarre story by Edogawa Rampo, previously adapted by director Hisayasu Sato as part of the 2005 anthology film RAMPO NOIR. It concerns a decorated soldier suffering from horrific war wounds that have turned him into, essentially, a human caterpillar without arms or legs. The soldier’s wife loyally tends to his needs (most of them sexual) until boredom and dissatisfaction with her lot inspire her to take some drastic and aberrant actions. Wakamatsu gives the proceedings a stately veneer, yet the underlying perversity is evident in a sexual angle far more frank than that of the story. Wakamatsu also includes a JOHNNY GOT HIS GUN-esque anti-war statement that comes complete with copious documentary snippets of WWII-era atrocities. It’s here, unfortunately, that this otherwise powerfully intimate account ultimately goes wrong: I’m referring specifically to the final scenes, when the black-and-white war footage proliferates to the point that it overtakes the drama altogether.

18. BLACK DEATH
More a dark historical chronicle than a proper horror movie, this is one of the year’s most brutal and unforgiving films. The setting is 14th Century Europe, ravaged by the Bubonic Plague. In the midst of this apocalyptic environ a band of church-appointed mercenary soldiers set out to find a necromancer residing in a distant village apparently untouched by the plague. The result is a HEART OF DARKNESS-esque account packed with torture, bloodlust and an arresting turn by Dutch actress Carice van Houten as the darkly seductive object of the mercenaries’ quest. Director Christopher Smith (of CREEP and SEVERANCE) lends the proceedings a compelling visual style, although the narrative isn’t nearly as strong, with a final out-of-left-field twist that’s not entirely satisfying.

19. INSIDIOUS
The latest outing from the SAW guys--director James Wan and writer Leigh Whannell--is a diverting enough scare fest that held my attention. That’s despite the fact that it shamelessly rips off POLTERGEIST and PARANORMAL ACTIVITY (whose creator Oren Peli has a producer credit), and is quite dumb overall. From a directorial standpoint Wan does a good job with the early scenes--in which Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne as the obligatory nice suburban couple come to realize their new house may be haunted--but loses his footing in the later ones, in which astral projection and alternate dimensions come into play (and the actors are forced to mouth dialogue like “She befriended your astral body and lured you into the further just as Dalton has been”).

20. I SAW THE DEVIL (AKMAREUL BOATDA)
There’s more bloodletting on display in this South Korean import than I can recall seeing in any other recent film, horror or otherwise. It’s the latest offering by Jee-woon Kim, of A TALE OF TWO SISTERS and THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE WEIRD fame. He was in a nasty mood this time around, delivering a unique, and uniquely gory, serial killer drama. It features a renegade cop (Bynug-hun Lee) blurring the lines between good and evil in his all-consuming quest to avenge the murder of his daughter at the hands of a depraved serial killer (OLDBOY’S Min-sik Choi). The cop tracks down the killer early on, but carries out his revenge in a most unexpected--and frankly moronic--manner: he gives the psycho a bunch of money and lets him run free, but with a sensor so he can track the killer’s every movement. It doesn’t take a genius to sense that this idea is deeply flawed (what happens if the killer figures out how to turn off and/or remove the sensor?), and all manner of bloody pratfalls ensue. The film is impressively lensed, with lively and colorful cinematography, and has an absorbing and action-packed narrative drive. But the ridiculousness of the plot, coupled with the vastly inflated 141 minute running time, blunts its impact considerably.

21. I MELT WITH YOU
Here we have the only film of 2011 that’s potentially more upsetting than A SERBIAN FILM or THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE 2. I MELT WITH YOU caused a major ruckus at Sundance, and it’s one of the few films that can be said to contain something to offend literally everybody. I know I was particularly irked by the pretentiousness of the enterprise, which thinks it’s far more profound than it really is. Yet this is a strong and impacting viewing experience without question, and contains many authentically powerful moments amid all the dreariness and self-indulgence. It concerns four fortyish guys (Thomas Jane, Jeremy Piven, Robe Lowe and Christian McKay) who try to stave off their collective dissatisfaction with a week-long orgy of drug-taking in a scenic Big Sur beach house--but things go horribly wrong a couple days in and a fateful college-era pact is brought up. Director Mark Pellington gives the proceedings an arrestingly feverish, hyped-up overlay similar to what director Evan Glodell did (better) in BELLFLOWER, and packs the soundtrack with nifty eighties punk tunes, ensuring that even when the film is at its most irritating it’s always enjoyable to look at and listen to.

22. SOURCE CODE
Another of those Philip K. Dick inspired sci fi mindbenders that have become so popular with Hollywood. This one is better than THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU, but not quite up there with INCEPTION. It features Jake Gyllenhaal as a fighter pilot who finds himself aboard a train with an attractive mystery woman (Michelle Monaghan) who claims she’s his wife. After a few minutes the train blows up, and Gyllenhaal comes to realize that he’s stuck in some kind of virtual reality simulator where he’s repeatedly thrust into a manufactured reality to find out who planted the bomb. In the process he of course falls in love with Ms. Monaghan, and becomes determined to go beyond the call of duty by saving everyone on the train--which his superiors naturally forbid. The reality warping premise conceals a fairly conventional narrative, but the film, as directed by MOON’S Duncan Jones, was fast and energetic enough to hold my attention.

23. THE SKIN I LIVE IN (LA PIEL QUE HABITO)
I’m admittedly never been a fan of Spain’s absurdly overpraised Pedro Almodovar, who here takes Thierry Jonquet’s psychosexual noir novel MYGALE and wreaks some typically flamboyant twists on the material. Set amidst an elegant (if overdone) atmosphere of clinical opulence, it centers on a plastic surgeon (Antonio Banderas) and an alluring young woman (Elena Anaya) he’s using to cultivate a type of inflammable skin. The reason for this invention is the death of the doctor’s wife in a car accident, and that’s not the only past trauma influencing the present: rape, torture, suicide and gender reassignment also figure into these characters’ recent histories. In Almodovar’s hands this freaky tale plays like a twisted soap opera with darkly comedic overtones--it’s just like most of Almodovar’s films, in other words, although THE SKIN I LIVE IN has a creepy fascination that sets it apart from the others (WOMEN ON THE VERGE OF A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN, ALL ABOUT MY MOTHER, VOLVER, etc). But I’m still not convinced of Pedro Almodovar’s supposed “genius.”

24. THE TROLL HUNTER (TROLLJEGEREN)
This Norwegian import is an enormously resourcefuland energetic example of budget-lite ingenuity, and boasts a couple truly jaw-dropping special effects sequences. That’s a damn good thing, because THE TROLL HUNTER is otherwise painfully episodic and derivative. It’s yet another entry in the digital POV craze, alleging that the footage we see was created by three college twerps who vanished into the woods making a student project. Yes, the film is very BLAIR WITCH-like, and also borrows heavily from CLOVERFIELD and JURASSIC PARK. The narrative, at least, has some novel elements, positing that the twerps are investigating the activities of a notorious bear poacher who’s actually hunting giant trolls in a Norwegian preserve. As per the old legends, the trolls turn to stone when exposed to bright light and are particularly hostile to Christians, being able to smell their blood from great distances. Fifteen years ago this film would likely have seemed the coolest thing around, but now…

25. SUPER 8
A diverting flashback to the high profile kid flicks of the eighties--think E.T., THE GOONIES and EXPLORERS--courtesy of executive producer Steven Spielberg and writer/director J.J. Abrams. SUPER 8 is also a loving tribute to the amateur films both filmmakers made in that format as kids, with several nerdy middle schoolers looking to make a super 8 movie during the late seventies (the time of Abrams’ childhood) and inadvertently filming an escape by an alien creature during a train wreck. What follows is a noisy and action-packed spectacle containing elements of all the abovementioned films. For the most part it’s good innocent fun, provided you don’t think about any of it too hard--I mean, how is it that a pickup truck stopped in an intersection is able to so thoroughly derail a train, and none of the kids afoot in the area are injured in the melee?

26. DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK
This slight film, a remake of the popular seventies TV movie of the same name, was greeted with an unusual amount of hype on the horror circuit. That’s mostly due to the presence of Guillermo Del Toro, who co-scripted and produced the film. As directed by Troy Nixey it works well enough, with generally strong performances, a well constructed atmosphere of near-Lovecraftian menace and some cool monsters. Those monsters are a bunch of little things who live in the basement of an ancient manor whose new owners include Guy Pearce as an obnoxious architect, Katie Holmes as his trophy wife and Bailee Madison as Pearce’s dissatisfied daughter, who the creatures see as a vessel to satisfy their thirst for children’s blood. Lots of screen time is devoted to the various monsters, but Nixey also finds time for atmospheric menace and old fashioned scares. Still, there’s just not a lot to the proceedings.
 

That does it for the “Best of” listing, but as always I’ll give you some quick takes on my favorite non-horror releases of the past year…

Also Recommended:

13 ASSASSINS (JUSAN-NIN NO SHIKAKU)
In which Japan’s psychotic Takashi Miike goes (semi)mainstream with a SEVEN SAMURAI-esque period epic containing thrills a-plenty.

ANOTHER EARTH
A scientifically implausible quasi-sci fi effort that nonetheless emerges as one of the year’s most thoughtful and invigorating films, with an arresting lead performance by superstar-in-the-making Brit Marling.

BLANK CITY
A nifty documentary look at the so-called “No-Wave” NYC film scene of the 1980s, typified by the likes of Richard Kern, Lydia Lunch, Jim Jarmusch and Nick Zedd, all of whom are interviewed here.

CARNAGE
Not the best film directed by Roman Polanski, but still about as good as can be expected of a drama consisting of four vomitous yuppies arguing for 80 minutes.

CITY OF LIFE AND DEATH (NANJING! NANJING!)
A black-and-white Chinese-made stunner that minutely examines the 1937 decimation of the Chinese city of Nanking by Japanese soldiers: compelling, horrifying and never less than thoroughly impressive.

A DANGEROUS METHOD
I’ll give David Cronenberg’s upscale drama about the relationship between Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung a nod, even though it suffers from an agonizingly unemotional and analytical tone.

DRIVE
No complaints here: a superbly cinematic grown-up actioner with style to burn and enough bloodshed to fill a SAW movie.

 

MELANCHOLIA
The year’s most unlikely masterwork, a Lars von Trier downer that mixes end-of-the-world sci fi with a claustrophobic depiction of a young woman’s emotional breakdown, featuring a searing and unforgettable performance by Kirsten Dunst(!).

 

OUTRAGE (AUTORIEJI)
A return to form for Japan’s Takeshi Kitano, who here gives us a hyper-violent Yakuza blow out. It may lack the quirkiness of previous Kitano masterworks, but his signature deadpan style is very much in evidence.

POINT BLANK (A BOUT PORTANT)
A good--not great--French suspense thriller that’s never less than thoroughly entertaining. It’s also somewhat sparse and forgettable in the manner of the Hollywood fare it supposedly eschews.

 

THE TREE OF LIFE
The fact that this Terrance Malick production has become a lighting rod in the neverending art vs. commerce debate is to its credit. For my part, I found THE TREE OF LIFE an arresting and even hypnotic example of freeform cinema.

 

Before leaving the good stuff entirely, I’ll provide some more quick takes, this time of old films that made their DVD bow in 2011. I'm aware DVDs are supposed to be over, but several companies don’t seem to know that!

Recommended DVD Releases:

BLACK MOON
From the good folk at Criterion, a nicely remastered version of Louis Malle’s sexy and horrific ALICE IN WONDERLAND inspired surreal-fest.

BURN, WITCH, BURN!
A stately and sophisticated British shocker from the sixties that remains one of the best and most underrated films of its type.

CUL-DE-SAC
One of Roman Polanski’s oddest and most elusive films is Criterionized, and to terrific effect.

 

DON’T OPEN TILL CHRISTMAS
In this holiday horror fest it’s guys dressed as Santa Claus who get massacred rather than the other way around. Not great, but a lot of mean fun.

ISLAND OF LOST SOULS
Another Criterion essential, the justly celebrated 1932 adaptation of H.G. Wells’ THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU with Charles Laughton and Bela Lugosi.

LAST EXIT TO BROOKLYN
Director Uli Edel’s 1989 adaptation of Hubert Selby Jr.’s timeless evocation of urban grit and despair is impressively stylized, although I strongly disagree with the tacked-on happy ending.

THE PHANTOM CARRIAGE
I’ve always liked this Victor Sjostrom helmed silent classic, a rich and ethereal ghost story that’s been given the deluxe Criterion treatment.

RITUALS
One of the better seventies-era DELIVERANCE wannabes, a grueling wilderness horror fable presented in a never-before-seen (in America) European cut.

SANTA SANGRE
The long, long delayed U.S. DVD premiere of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s fabulously brain-fried psycho thriller, in an extra-stuffed package from Severin Films. A must!

 

THE TODD KILLINGS
This excellent 1970s psycho thriller has finally made it to DVD! Creepy, unforgiving and unerringly realistic, this film is a true unsung classic.

 

THE WITCHMAKER
The classic, if little-seen, bayou set horror fest from 1969, given stellar DVD treatment by Code Red.
 

And I’m afraid that’s it for the good stuff. Yes, that means it’s time now to move on to…

The Worst

1. SUCKER PUNCH
Not just a stunningly awful movie, but a virtual object lesson in all that’s wrong with modern Hollywood. It’s about an abused girl (Emily Browning) interred in a mental hospital by her mean stepfather. We’re privy to her fantasies, which all seem to involve a lot of guns, explosions and scantily clad babes set amidst a thoroughly synthetic CGI dreamscape. As for a coherent narrative or character development, forget it. Furthermore, the whole thing is wildly over-directed and designed; in true Hollyweird fashion, writer-director Zack Snyder was evidently counting on us to be so dazzled by all the sound and fury that we wouldn’t notice it’s all in service of essentially nothing. Nor does Snyder appear to have taken into account the fact that none of the action ever has any gravity or consequence (much less suspense), seeing as how it’s made clear early on that it’s all a hallucination. As for the lovely Miss Browning, she’s a wonderful actress but seems trapped in a bad movie vortex, having also headlined this and the nearly-as-awful Aussie import SLEEPING BEAUTY in the same year.

2. CREATURE
This bummer has the distinction of having one of the lowest opening week grosses in history. It may not be the worst film of the year, as some commentators have stated, but it is substandard straight-to-video fodder through and through. Co-produced by Universal Pictures’ former president Sid Sheinberg--which answers the question of how CREATURE ever got a theatrical release--it features yet another band of horny young airheads getting waylaid by psychotic rednecks in a rural setting, where an ALIEN-esque monster happens to be on the loose. The proceedings are uninspiring, unconvincing and unscary, with an embarrassed-looking Sid Haig gamely fumbling his way through all the nonsense.

3. HISSS
With this shockingly inert Bollywood trifle Jennifer Lynch confirms the non-promise of her notorious debut BOXING HELENA--and to think, I thought Ms. Lynch’s filmmaking skills had improved with 2008’s perverse and imaginative SURVEILLANCE. HISSS, by contrast, is resolutely clumsy and amateurish in its approach, and packed with inexcusably shitty CGI. The concept is one familiar enough in Indian folklore to comprise an entire Bollywood subgenre: a woman periodically transforms into a snake critter, in which guise she kills several people. Mallika Sherawat makes little-to-no impression as the snake babe, and nor do any of the other actors. The real surprise is that Lynch, who scripted the movie, never develops her narrative much beyond its most obvious perimeters, with a silly love story and police inquest into the snake woman’s crimes taking up much of the interminable running time.

4. COWBOYS & ALIENS
It’s hard to decide what’s more depressing about this Jon Favreau directed turd: the fact that it’s such a dreary spectacle or that it represents what passes for originality in modern Hollywood. The title pretty much tells the story, consisting of a by-the-numbers cowboy flick crossed with an even less inspiring alien invasion account. With its lackluster performances, cliché-ridden script, forgettable score, vastly inflated running time and goofy-looking aliens, the film proves something I’ve long suspected: that Favreau is the least talented A-list director this side of Brett Ratner.

5. CHILLERAMA
There are few things more deadly than intentionally retro-centric filmmaking. For an example of a recent film that attempted such a format and actually pulled it off, see HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN. CHILLERAMA, on the other hand, typifies all that’s annoying about this sort of fare. It’s a four-part comedy tribute to the drive-in flicks of the 1950s and 60s, with “humor” geared toward a 13-year-old mentality and a film school level of craftsmanship. The directors Adam Green, Joe Lynch, Adam Rifkin and Tim Sullivan don’t seem too well versed in the type of filmmaking they’re supposedly aping (the Rifkin-helmed “Wadzilla” segment, for instance, seems more influenced by the climax of GHOSTBUSTERS than anything from the drive-in era), with hysterical overacting, wonky camera angles and ludicrously overwrought music cues all meant to remind us that we’re watching an old style B-movie. What we’re really viewing is a misguided trifle that sees four prominent genre filmmakers wasting their time and ours.

6. PRIEST
An extremely ambitious film, but those ambitions have manifested themselves in all the wrong areas. The elaborate art direction attests that a lot of care was taken in the look of the film, but that same degree of care isn’t evident in the script. I’m not familiar with the Korean graphic novel series that inspired PRIEST, but what’s onscreen is appallingly derivative. The Paul Bettany essayed hero, a homicidal priest who roams a futuristic wasteland killing vampire creatures, is very Blade-esque, while the critters look remarkably like the eyeless Pale Man from PAN’S LABYRINTH, and the film’s futuristic urban sprawl shamelessly replicates that of BLADE RUNNER. Not that PRIEST would be much without its borrowings: it actually reminded me of last year’s BOOK OF ELI in its wildly inert and uninspired narrative, which the filmmakers evidently couldn’t get too worked up about. Why, then, should we?

7. APOLLO 18
Another of those faux-found footage opuses predicated on the idea that it’s an actual documentary. This film’s makers tried harder than most to perpetrate their ruse, purporting that what they’re depicting is actual footage of a doomed lunar mission (the digital sound design alone gives away the fact that the proceedings aren’t real), complete with scratchy, grainy footage and a website detailing the “Apollo 18 conspiracy.” I understand why so much effort was expended to make us think what we’re seeing is real, because taken by itself the film wouldn’t pass muster as the twelfth-rate ALIEN rip-off it is.

8. HOSTEL 3
Yet another bummer from Scott Spiegel, whose previous directorial efforts include missed opportunities like INTRUDER and FROM DUSK TILL DAWN 2, and who here had the unfortunate task of overseeing an Eli Roth-less HOSTEL sequel. Quite simply, Spiegel fails to get much of anything out of the material, even with jazzy touches like a graphic EYES WITHOUT A FACE-inspired face lifting and a throat’s-eye POV shot of cockroaches swarming a woman’s gullet. As for the plot, it involves three dweebs partying in Vegas who run afoul of a band of Russian torture enthusiasts. The proceedings are woefully lacking in energy and inspiration, and the final scenes are so perfunctory I’m having trouble remembering what-all happened.

9. THE THING
Allegedly a prequel to John Carpenter’s 1982 classic THE THING, this is actually a thinly disguised remake. Despite certain cosmetic changes--a babe scientist (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) in the lead role, a climactic immersion inside the alien spaceship seen briefly in Carpenter’s film--this THING hits nearly all the same beats as its predecessor, from an early scene in a dog pen to a crucial test to see who among the protagonists is the thing (accomplished, in the film’s only truly original touch, via the sight of teeth fillings the thing can’t assimilate). What’s missing is the tautness and suspense of Carpenter’s film, as well as the stunningly imaginative creature design of Rob Bottin. Certainly the special effects here far outdo Bottin’s in frequency and elaborateness, yet none, curiously enough, are as memorable as the Bottin-engineered sight of a severed head sprouting tendrils and scuttling across a floor--a telling example of the primacy of in-camera special effects (however primitive) over CGI.

10. STRAW DOGS
If I weren’t already familiar with Sam Peckinpah’s STRAW DOGS this remake might have made for an acceptable backwoods suspensor. But I am familiar with Peckinpah’s 1971 masterwork, and can’t help but feel irked at the way the new film’s writer-director Rod Lurie has so thoroughly sanded down its raw edges. This isn’t to say that I find the idea of a STRAW DOGS remake entirely abhorrent: Lurie could have gone back to the blistering source novel, THE SIEGE OF TRENCHER’S FARM by Gordon Williams, from which Peckinpah deviated quite a bit. No such luck, alas, as what Lurie provides is essentially a PC replication of the original film. As in Peckinpah’s STRAW DOGS, we have a nerdy academic (James Marsden) moving to the country home where his flirty wife (Kate Bosworth) grew up; their presence inflames the locals, leading to an apocalyptic showdown at Marsden’s farmhouse. Here the locale has been relocated, unconvincingly, from rural England to America’s Bible Belt. Other pointless changes include a feminist argument Bosworth has with her hubbie after he accuses her of flouting her assets, and a similar altercation the two have during the climactic siege. Lurie is careful to make sure all the character’s actions are clearly explained throughout, as opposed to Peckinpah’s teasing ambiguity and psychological complexity. Bottom line: if you’re wanting to see STRAW DOGS then by all means see it in its original and definitive form!

11. FRIGHT NIGHT
A remake of the 1984 comedy-horror fest FRIGHT NIGHT with elements filched from 2007’s DISTURBIA? I can’t imagine how this film could have possibly bombed! In all seriousness, this shitty movie suffers from a humorless and self-important tone that ignores the affectionate comedy of the original FRIGHT NIGHT--a bad idea, it turns out, as the material simply doesn’t work without the laughs. The concept of a vampire living next door to a suburban teen (Anton Yelchin) is too silly and clichéd to work as the intense CGI fest director Craig Gillespie was trying for, and Colin Farrell as said vampire is too hammy to be believable (he seems to particularly relish taking his shirt off). At the risk of sounding repetitive, I’ll sum up my feelings about this new FRIGHT NIGHT with the same admonition that concluded the previous entry: if you really want to see this movie see the original!

12. TETSUO THE BULLET MAN
The most disappointing film yet by Japan's brilliant Shinya Tsukamoto. Recent efforts like GEMINI and VITAL have seen Tsukamoto shifting his attention away from the cyber insanity of his debut TETSUO THE IRON MAN, but in this, the second sequel to TETSUO, Tsukamoto has gone back to his starting point. That might not have been such a bad thing if only this new TETSUO had something--anything--original to offer, but unfortunately it's just more of the same, with a dude finding himself metamorphosing into a goofy-looking cyborg and eventually going to war with a similarly afflicted individual. The film, laboring under a noisy score by Trent Reznor and frenzied shaky-cam visuals, makes the original TETSUO look like a model of stately refinement, but noise and fury are ultimately all it has to offer. In the Shinya Tsukamoto cannon TETSUO THE BULLET MAN ranks with the similarly underwhelming BULLET BALLET, meaning any Tsukamoto film with "Bullet" in the title should be avoided at all costs.

13. PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES
Silly me: I thought the PIRATES franchise was worn out two movies ago, and this latest entry did nothing to change my opinion. If anything this new film is even more cacophonous and annoying than its predecessors, with Johnny Deep returning as Captain Jack Sbarrow and a suitably over-the-top Penelope Cruz joining the series as Sbarrow’s new love interest. They’re in search of the fountain of youth, together with Blackbeard the pirate and his zombified crew; opposing them are malevolent mermaids and Jeffrey Rush as Depp’s antagonist from the previous films. This film was “Suggested By” Tim Powers’ terrific novel ON STRANGER TIDES (which is believed by many to be the uncredited inspiration for the previous PIRATES movies), but it’s a loose adaptation that favors nonsensical action and tired comedy over Tim Powers’ genuine wit and inspiration.

14. SCREAM 4
In truth, this lousy movie was exactly what I was expecting from a ten years-too-late entry in a franchise that for me encapsulated all that was annoying about the 1990s. Here we have the same trio of idiots from the first three SCREAMS--Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox and David Arquette--together with some equally blank-faced new recruits, all discussing horror movie rules while getting chased around by someone in a black cloak and mask, before the perpetrator reveals him(or her)self in tried-and-true Scooby Doo fashion and the whole mess comes to a merciful end. There are some memorable moments here and there (such as the sight of sweet-faced Emma Roberts pummeling herself in her parents’ living room), but they’re few and far between. Wes Craven doesn’t appear to have been too enthused about directing this film, as it’s an uninspired affair that feels cynical and calculated, which adequately sums up this entire franchise.

15. PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3
Is there anyone out there who actually thought this might be a quality film? It’s supposed to be a prequel, showing what occurred in the childhood of the original PARANORMAL ACTIVITY’S headliner Katie Featherston. You may recall her taking about calling up an unquiet spirit as a kid in PA1, and we learn here that she was actually possessed by said spirit and killed her father--who helpfully videotapes it all, as did Katie’s co-star did in the previous film. Comparing the two movies aptly demonstrates what’s wrong with this one, although I’d say it more than speaks for itself. As in part one, the best scares are the simplest and least showy (such as a placid kitchen shot shattered by falling pots and pans). If only the directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman had taken that lesson to heart, and not packed the final third with distracting and unconvincing CGI effects.

16. THE COUNTESS
A testament to the eternal fascination exerted by Erzsebet Bathory, the Seventeenth Century Hungarian countess who murdered and allegedly bathed in the blood of over 600 young women. This ambitious French-German co-production was written, directed and scored by French actress/filmmaker Julie Delpy, who makes the Countess out to be, essentially, a virtuous woman driven mad by a political conspiracy. Beyond that THE COUNTESS has a wealth of problems endemic to expensive European co-productions, including an international cast whose accents and acting styles constantly clash and a uniformly bland tone. The photography and scenery are handsome but never particularly striking, while the film is bloody in parts but never too much so. Overshadowing all those things, however, is a far more grievous problem: the presence of Julie Delpy in the lead role. The idea of this resolutely perky and petite performer (best known for her roles in the comedy-romance duo BEFORE SUNRISE and BEFORE SUNSET) playing Countess Bathory is downright perverse. It’s no surprise that Delpy comes off throughout as more of a pouty sourpuss than the domineering madwoman she’s supposed to be portraying, and the overall film redolent of a substandard MASTERPIECE THEATER segment that woefully fails to do its subject matter justice.

17. THE WARD
This may seem like just another trashy straight-to-DVD potboiler, and in many respects that’s just what THE WARD is. Yet it’s also the iconic John Carpenter’s first feature film in nearly a decade. It concerns a severely disturbed blond chick (Amber Heard) shut up in a mental ward, where she becomes convinced that the ghost of a murdered inmate is afoot. Looking for glimpses of John Carpenter’s (former) genius for horror and suspense? You won’t find too many here. Unlike nearly all of Carpenter’s other films, THE WARD was not lensed in Panavision, and has thoroughly generic music by Mark Kilian. Shopworn genre clichés (flashing lightning, noisy music cues, etc) are utilized throughout, and the performers all appear to have been encouraged to overact shamelessly. Then there’s the twist ending, which resembles those of IDENTITY and SHUTTER ISLAND in the way it unconvincingly transforms a seemingly straightforward and realistic account into a whacked-out psychological reverie.

18. THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE II [FULL SEQUENCE]
As promised, writer-director Tom Six goes way beyond the excesses of the disgusting but limited HUMAN CENTIPEDE in this ambitious sequel. Here a fat slug (Laurence R. Harvey) becomes obsessed with THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE, playing the DVD over and over (including its opening credits, thus allowing Six to have his name flashed onscreen several times). He decides to create his own nine-person human centipede, the gruesome details of which are far more graphically portrayed than in the first film. For good measure, Six includes some extra disgusting tidbits, such as a newborn infant’s head crushed under a floored gas pedal, a centipede inserted into the protagonist’s asshole and brown shit spattering the camera lens--which is all the more striking since the film is otherwise in black and white! As to whether any of this is any good, the answer is a big NO. The opening scenes are clumsy and formless, while the latter ones are painfully sluggish and uneventful (my major complaint with the first film). Clearly there’s only so far one can go with this material, which I’d say is now officially worn out.

19. BURKE AND HARE
As a huge fan of writer-director John Landis’ comedic scare classic AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, I’m well aware of how difficult the comedy-horror juxtaposition is to pull off. Just check out this, Landis’ latest film, which attempts just such a mixture and fumbles it spectacularly. William Burke and William Hare were real-life opportunists who back in 1927-28 committed 17 murders in Edinburgh, Ireland, and sold the corpses to an anatomy professor. Several B&H inspired features have already been made, so why Landis figured we needed another is beyond me, especially since the script by Piers Ashworth and Nick Moorcroft is so misconceived. To be sure, the film has a strong cast headlined by Simon Pegg and Andy Serkis as the title characters, supported by Isla Fisher, Tom Wilkinson, Tim Curry and Christopher Lee (along with Landis’ standard assortment of quirky cameos by the likes of Ray Harryhausen, AMERICAN WEREWOLF’S Jenny Agutter and the film directors Michael Winner and Costa Gavras). It also boasts a superbly atmospheric recreation of early-1900s Ireland that’s at once sumptuous and appropriately squalid. But none of that changes the fact that the overall comedic tone simply doesn’t work, or that most of the gags just aren’t very funny.

20. DREAM HOUSE
It’s common for directors to blame the box office failures of their films on shoddy marketing and studio interference, and this film is a prime example of both. DREAM HOUSE’S director Jim Sheridan reportedly feuded mightily with producer James Robinson, who recut the film and reshot several scenes. To add insult to injury, the completed film was advertised as a standard-issue haunted house flick, which it definitely isn’t. It’s actually a somewhat trippy psychological thriller that sees novelist Daniel Craig, his wife and two young daughters moving into a house where a murder was committed a year earlier. Initially it seems they’re being harassed by the house’s previous owner, but then Craig learns that he was the previous owner. Furthermore, the killings that occurred in the house were those of Craig’s own family! All this is interesting enough but the film falls apart entirely in the final third, where Robinson’s meddling clearly had the greatest impact. Here we learn that Craig isn’t actually the killer, and the whole thing limps to a disappointingly conventional finish wherein the real bad guys get their comeuppance. In this way the reality displacement of the earlier scenes is ignored, as is the fact that the protagonist has some pretty major psychological problems. The final scene, with its suggestion that the preceding may have all been fiction, only confuses matters further.

21. BATTLE: LOS ANGELES
Essentially a war movie with all the expected clichés, but with PREDATOR-like aliens in place of Native Americans/Nazis/terrorists. Yet in all other respects this is unadulterated Hollywood jingoism, with much inspirational speechifying about God, country and the Marines, and even the obligatory kid character who exists so the battle-hardened protagonists can show a softer side. The well-armed aliens also follow standard war movie protocol, including the periodic toning down of their onslaught so the heroes can have some Big Emotional Moments. It’s all kinda fun--or would be, at least, if director Jonathan Liebesman didn’t insist on visualizing everything through the type of ultra-jittery handheld camerawork and chaotic editing that’s so chic right now (Liebesman evidently studied BLACK HAWK DOWN and the opening scenes of SAVING PRIVATE RYAN), which accomplishes little but confusion and annoyance.

22. RED RIDING HOOD
One of those fairy tale inversions modern Hollywood so loves, this one twisting the particulars of “Little Red Riding Hood” into a clichéd werewolf tale. TWILIGHT’S Catherine Hardwicke directed, and was evidently influenced by Neil Jordan’s COMPANY OF WOLVES (1984) with its teenaged Little Red Riding Hood, enchanted forest into which the girl is drawn, elaborate werewolf transformation effects and stark sexual overtones. Hardwicke has assembled a strong cast--Amanda Seyfried, Gary Oldman, Virginia Madsen, Julie Christie--and come up with some striking visuals, but those things can’t overcome the tired script. Hardwicke seems especially enamored with the oft-repeated sight of the title character’s red cloak set against a snow-covered background, but she doesn’t appear nearly as interested in the story and characters.

23. RUBBER
A movie I really, really wanted to like more than I did, RUBBER has an arrestingly weird premise involving a discarded tire that comes to life and, rolling its way through the California desert, discovers it has the power to make peoples’ heads explode. Sounds interesting, but in truth there’s only so far one can go with that concept. What we’re left with, then, is a rather sparse and meandering film padded with much postmodern silliness (such as a group of people who stand around and comment on the filmic conventions being mined), lame comic relief from some goofball cops and a severely bloated end credits sequence. The film is at least well made, with strikingly arid desert scenery and excellent sound design--note the immensely satisfying crunching noise the tire makes as it rolls around, which unfortunately can’t mask the fact that the proceedings are otherwise perilously undernourished.

24. THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU
This one had promise: an intellectually grounded Philip K. Dick inspired film focused on ideas rather than action (you wouldn’t know it from viewing most of the other PKD adapted movies, but the man was NOT a writer of action or detective stories). It turns out, unfortunately, that the gratuitous fights and gunplay of previous PKD adaptations have merely been replaced by a lot of excess chatter. Just about every other scene features the protagonist Matt Damon having things explained to him by emissaries of an extraterrestrial bureau that secretly controls reality (or something). Damon, it seems, misses a crucial bureau-designated connection one day and falls in love with Emily Blunt as a pretty ballet dancer--something the bureau doesn’t intend. This leads to a lot of running around on the part of Damon, at least when he isn’t being briefed on how the adjustment bureau’s powers work. The whole thing is reasonably well directed and acted, but it can be used as a cautionary example of why it’s not a good idea to include too much exposition in a film--because frankly, after a while I lost interest!

 

And on that shitty note my 2011 YEAR IN HORROR list ends. Before going, however, I’ll leave you with some promising upcoming releases.
     Keep in mind that these are my own subjective picks of what seems promising. This means I’m not going to pretend to get excited about BATTLESHIP, HALLOWEEN III, GHOST RIDER: SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE or the latest RESIDENT EVIL sequel, but will concentrate on those films that seem to promise quality and/or originality. Not an easy task, but I think I’ve managed to come up with some strong selections.

Looking Forward…

4:44 LAST DAY ON EARTH
Abel Ferrera’s quirky Willem Dafoe headlined end-of-the-world drama looks like Ferrera’s most interesting film in some time (and his first in over a decade to get a significant U.S. release!).

COSMOPOLIS
Even though I wasn’t overjoyed with A DANGEROUS METHOD, David Cronenberg is one of my cinematic icons, and this Don DeLillo adaptation seems promising--even if it does star Robert Pattinson.

THE DARK KNIGHT RISES
No elaboration is required. I’m sure you know all about this film, which happens to be one of the few upcoming blockbusters I really want to see.

DARK SHADOWS
Tim Burton transposes the hoary old vampire TV series to the big screen with Johnny Depp and Michelle Pfeiffer. Hey, it is possible the result will be good!

DJANGO UNCHAINED
Like most of you I’ve already read the script to this one, and frankly wasn’t all that impressed. Still, I’m always up for a new Tarantino freak-out.

JOHN DIES AT THE END
Don Coscarelli adapts David Wong’s popular novel into a film that has already been touted as a new cult classic.

PROMETHEUS
Ridley Scott revisits ALIEN territory in this Charlize Theron headliner. I’m really not too optimistic, but will be one of the first in line nonetheless.

SURVIVING LIFE (THEORY AND PRACTICE)
The great Jan Svankmajor’s latest is one of his finest-ever features, a mind-roasting mixture of live action and stop motion animation in service of an unforgettably perverse and surreal narrative!

THE WHISPERER IN DARKNESS
A new H.P. Lovecraft adaptation by the guys who made ‘05’s CALL OF CTHULHU that’s been wowing festival audiences.

--1/30/12 

     

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