To be honest, there are some movies that were better than this one and didn’t make the list. Escape From Tomorrow has an intangible quality, however, that fascinates me and makes the flick stick in my mind like that accursed “It’s A Small World After All” song. Part of it definitely has to do with it being filmed guerilla style inside the Disney amusement parks. How they were able to pull that off right under the noses of park security is nothing short of indie horror heroism. The sneakiness, craftiness, and testicular fortitude that took alone means it’s worth checking out. What makes it more than just a curious piece of filmmaking bravado is the absurd, surreal, “what the hell did I just watch” nightmare it turns into. For the first half, a dad is losing his grip on reality while on vacation with his family. You think you know where this is going. At about the midpoint, everything goes haywire and it’s impossible to know what kind of weirdness is going to be thrown at you next. When it was over, I was left with a “huh, that was messed up” feeling and moved on. A couple hours later, I found myself thinking about it again. A couple hours after that, I had to re-watch it. Somehow this movie will worm inside of your skull and just sit there poking at your synapses with one of those huge, swirly-stick souvenir lollipops until you pay attention to it. It is, without a doubt, the most unique viewing experience to be had this year.
9 - TIE: V/H/S/2 and All Hallows Eve
It’s my countdown and I’ll have a tie if I want to. What we have here is a pair of anthologies with one shared characteristic - they’re both awesome despite a lame segment about aliens. I hated the first V/H/S too, but I implore you to give the sequel a shot. It won me over with a couple of innovative twists on the tired found-footage gimmick and the outstanding Safe Haven segment. All Hallow’s Eve is a collection of Damien Leone’s short films with a killer new wraparound story. It appeared on DVD around Halloween with no fanfare, but turned out to be one of the best “out of nowhere” surprises of the year. The “Art the Clown” character has franchise potential and could easily carry another couple of flicks. Anthologies have come back in a big way over the last couple of years. The results have been mixed, but these are two that are sure to please.
8 - The Battery
Last year I praised Ryan Lieske’s flick Abed for telling an intimate, emotionally affecting story within the framework of a zombie movie. The Battery did it again this year. This story of two teammates thrown together as survival partners is a far less glamorized, and refreshingly authentic feeling, view of the zombie apocalypse. There’s very little undead action. While a little more might have been fun, it’s the quiet, small moments and the sometimes contentious “buddy flick” trappings that make it all work. By completely focusing on the two main characters, played perfectly by writer/director Jeremy Gardner and Adam Cronheim, the audience is allowed to get inside their heads and really feel for them. That way when the third act turns dark and trades the wry humor for tension, that audience relationship pays off in spades. Add in a couple of great songs and the absolute funniest scene in any movie this year ( which I’ve dubbed the “put ‘em on the glass” scene) and you’ve got a winner. It’s also inspiring that the movie was made with “prosumer” gear and a $6,000 budget. The Battery just made everyone else’s low budget excuses null and void.
7 – Maniac
I know, I know. It’s unthinkable. A remake made it onto my best flicks countdown. Hell, I’m just as surprised as you are. I do loathe 90% of the remakes that come out, but I’m here to tell you that Maniac is the best remake of a classic in at least a decade. Actually, the two things that worried me the most before seeing it ended up being the two things that won me over. First, I was sure that, as sick as I am of found footage, I would hate the “POV” shooting style. Shockingly, it worked. It didn’t devolve into shaky cam too many times, they cheated at just the right moments, and it actually seemed like a fresh and unique storytelling device. Second, I was afraid that Frodo was going to try to play Joe Spinell. Luckily, he decided to put an entirely different spin on his interpretation. That also worked. The gore, despite being too CGI reliant at times, looked good. Co-star Nora Arnezeder hit all the right notes. The neon sleaze of LA gives the film a flavor both similar enough to and just different enough from the gritty yesteryear New York of the original. Most importantly, the movie refuses to devolve into a psychoanalytic brood-fest and just goes for the sick psycho thrills. I’ve seen other reviewers state that this bests its source material. I would venture that those reviewers are smoking crack, but the new Maniac does stand on its own as a worthy companion piece.
6 – The WNUF Halloween Special80’s nostalgia was running wild in 2013. The best thing that came out of that wistful wave wasn’t the overpriced limited edition VHS releases from boutique distributors or the two documentaries that I heard were great but never got to see. The real apex of 2013’s tape-mania was this gem. Sorry V/H/S, THIS is the most innovative use of the format as a storytelling device to be devised yet. The WNUF Halloween Special is a painstakingly recreated October 31, 1987 news broadcast complete with “satanic panic” stories and faux 80’s commercials. Aside from a brief moment or two where things flirt with being a little too self aware, I could put this on my actual VHS of Halloween specials from 1986 and no one would ever be able to tell the difference. Hell, I know a couple of people who bought the whole “this is really a lost broadcast that was recorded live and has just been rediscovered” thing hook, line, and sinker. That’s how convincing it is. The anchors are in full hype mode, because their field correspondent (along with a couple of hired psychics) is going into a real haunted house... LIVE! One of my earliest childhood memories is watching Geraldo open Al Capone’s empty vault, and this captured that “80’s TV event” feel perfectly. Of course, everything goes horribly wrong once they’re in the infamous abode. It's a fun watch and a loving look back at simpler days. The filmmakers are to be commended for their amazing attention to detail. This felt exactly like digging out and popping in that long forgotten “TV tape” we all have lurking in the dusty recesses of the attic or basement. The WNUF Halloween Special is essential viewing for every monster kid from the video store era and a new addition to my annual All Hallow’s watch list.