A word about dates is in order before we get underway here. If a film is a major theatrical release, the year isn’t a question. Some smaller release titles are a little trickier. I normally go by the date when it became widely available in the US. If it played a few festivals last year, but got a wide release this year, I count it as this year. There is one exception. If it was in limited release and I happened to see it, it’s this year. That’s right, it’s all about when I saw it. Time is my bitch. Anyway, on with the countdown…
I caught some flack for ranking a documentary so high on last year’s list, so I figured I’d kick off this year’s list with a pair of them. I’m going to throw three names out, and if you see them involved with a horror documentary, I recommend you buy it without hesitation. Mark Hartley has been making “making of” docs for years. He came into prominence with the amazing Not Quite Hollywood (about Australian exploitation flicks) a couple of years ago, and this year saw the release of Machete Maidens Unleashed. It is an impressively in depth look at Filipino exploitation cinema. Extremely entertaining on its own, it also provided me with a long “to watch” list. If you like obscure, off the wall flicks, you have to see MMU. Besides, how could you not want to see ANYTHING with that title? Bill Philputt and Thommy Hutson are two of the minds behind His Name Was Jason, Scream: The Inside Story, and the flawless Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy, which was #2 on this list last year. This year they gave us More Brains, which gives the “everything you ever wanted to know” treatment to Return of the Living Dead. If you’ve seen their other work, you know what to expect. If you are a schlock historian, zombie fanatic, or a fan of horror films at all, these docs are for you.
Insidious is the only major studio theatrical release on the list. In a year where Hollywood kept churning out sequels, remakes, retreads of tired clichés, and bloated big budget 3D fluff, this little ghost flick was a breath of fresh air. It also proved that PG-13 horror movies can actually deliver, a fact I needed to be reminded of. It really didn’t break any new ground, we’ve seen evil spirits and haunted houses lots of times, but it stripped them down to their barest elements, wrapped them in thick layers of atmosphere, and gave us a classic style fun fright flick. Darkness, well timed (and not over done) jump scares, suspense, monsters lurking in the shadows, and the “pair a non creepy song with a creepy scene” trick will never go away, nor should they. The flick didn’t need multi million dollar special effects. Instead it relied on style and, gasp…storytelling. I love blood and guts as much as anyone, but Insidious proved that an old fashioned “gather round the campfire” spooky story can still resonate with modern audiences…even if the demon did look like Darth Maul.
Ok, ok, so it isn’t really a horror movie. It’s sci-fi, but I’m still counting it. It’s my countdown, and I’ll mix genres if I want to. Anyway, it follows a group of juvenile delinquents as they try to survive an alien invasion in Urban England. The chemistry between the young cast is excellent. They almost have a ghetto Goonies vibe. They start out as completely unlikable shitbags, but by the end of the movie you’re truly rooting for them. A character arc like that isn’t easy to pull off, especially with young actors. It’s clear from the staging of the action scenes that Joe Cornish is a Carpenter fan, and you can do a whole hell of a lot worse as far as influences go. The design of the aliens is brilliant in its simplicity, and the CGI actually looks good. If you dig the “80’s-esque kids vs. aliens” movie but were sickened by the sheer Speilberg-ness schmaltziness of Super 8, Attack the Block is for you. Plus, Nick Frost is in it, and 9 times out of 10 that’s a good indicator that a flick is worth watching.
For the record, I’m pretty sure that guy that stormed out of this flick at Sundance was an ingenious publicity stunt. At least I hope so. That was just a little too perfect. That’s not to say that this flick isn’t extreme enough to elicit a strong reaction, I just want to think that someone was brilliant enough to come up with that viral marketing strategy. Anyway, the reason this flick is so good is that it’s the closest anyone has ever come to capturing the spirit of a Jack Ketchum story on film. Ketchum is a maestro at dragging audiences through humanity’s heart of darkness, and The Woman delivers in spades. It’s sick, bloody, and it manages to be misogynistic and feminist at the same time. It also features a couple of great performances. While I do have a few issues with Lucky McGee’s direction of the flick (like that godawful soundtrack), it’s pure Ketchum, and you can never go wrong with that. Have I mentioned that I love Jack Ketchum?
Coffin Joe returns! I found out about this flick two years ago, and agonized, paced the floor, and chewed my nails (a problem Coffin Joe obviously does not have) over it until it finally became available stateside this year. I love me some Coffin Joe. If you’re not familiar with Coffin Joe, shame on you. Go watch the first two parts of the trilogy and the documentary Coffin Joe: The Strange World of José Mojica Marins NOW. Then you can finish the countdown. I’ll wait…ok are we all caught up? Good. It is fascinating to watch the work of a true horror auteur in very different eras in film. Marin’s flicks were groundbreaking in the 60’s and 70’s, and watching him embrace what is possible and allowed in modern film is entrancing. All of the usual Coffin Joe touches are here; the critters (snakes, bugs, spiders, snakes), the gratuitous nudity, the nightmarish hallucinatory landscapes, the bizarre soliloquies, and Marin’s melodramatically sinister performance style. The gore quotient is definitely higher here than back in the day. Merins has always been twisted, but this time around he had the resources and permission to indulge himself the way he couldn’t in the 60’s. The story mirrors this change of the times, with Coffin Joe being released from prison into a very different world than the one he left. He’s still after the perfect woman to carry on his bloodline though. Gotta respect that kind of dedication. This one is a must see for both fans of the Coffin Joe films who have been chomping at the bit for the trilogy to be complete and those just discovering this under appreciated horror icon. This may be the end of the trilogy, but I hope we haven’t seen the last everyone’s favorite blasphemous grave digger.