STOP! If you missed the first half of the countdown, go check it out HERE.
Before we get to the list, I have to address one thing. My favorite movie I saw this year is not on this list. I went back and forth over whether or not to include it, but in the end I decided that it wouldn’t really be fair. In other words, everything is true. God’s an astronaut, Oz is over the rainbow, and Nightbreed: The Cabal Cut is far and away the best horror flick of 2013. Russell Cherrington did a beautiful job taking the available materials and crafting something that is familiar to fans but offers an entirely new cinematic experience. You can read MY REVIEW for more details. I believe that once Scream Factory releases the restored version later this year, Nightbreed will no longer be considered just a cult classic, but one of the most visionary and epic horror films ever made. The problem is, while it can be argued that it is a different movie, it is not a completely new movie and I felt that giving it the top spot wouldn’t be fair to the new horror of 2013. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, on with the countdown…
5 – We Are What We Are
All of our families have quirks. Secrets and traditions that would seem bizarre and even insane to the outside world, but seem normal to us because it’s all we’ve ever known. Possibly the deepest seeded of these are based in faith. There are few more profound formative experiences than when someone who has been raised in a strict religious household discovers a schism between what they believe and what they’ve been told to believe. This is the internal struggle at the heart of this tale of a mountain cannibal family, and man is it powerful. Amid the slow build tension and well-timed moments of brutal bloodletting is a fascinating familial character study. As well paced as the flick is, it wouldn’t have worked nearly as well without the superb acting. Bill Sage is effective as the domineering yet sincere father and Julia Gardner does well as the younger sister, but the real stunner is Ambyr Childers (who kinda reminds me of a young Patricia Arquette) as Rose. Her performance as a girl trapped between family loyalty and a desire to be “normal” and find her own identity is perfectly layered and incredibly real. This is smart, atmospheric, thought provoking horror that will stick with you.
4 – Would You Rather
An eccentric millionaire invites a bunch of broke hard luck cases to play a high stakes, sadistic game of “would you rather” for a chance at a new lease on life. It’s a simple premise for a simple movie that’s simply awesome. Most of the proceedings take place in a single room, giving it the feeling of a Grand Guignol theatre piece with the ensemble cast led by the legendary Jeffrey Combs. I’ll watch him in anything, and he was particularly good here. Some reviewers took the “pain game” motif and Combs’ occasional moralizing as an excuse to compare this to Saw (which it has no real similarity to) and trot out that tired, meaningless phrase “torture porn.” If you are one of these reviewers, please find some other form of entertainment to write about because your understanding of horror is woefully lacking. There is a streak of black humor running through this that keeps things fairly light outside of the most grisly moments. Half of the fun comes from choosing which character you would be in the game. Are you the “good guy who sacrifices himself” or the “better you than me” guy? Maybe you’re the “I’m gonna enjoy this” greedy bitch. Whether you read this one as an indictment of how easily people are bought in today’s culture (the “game” is a very small step from something one might see on reality TV) or just some sick kicks with one of horror’s most beloved actors, Would You Rather definitely deserves a lot more praise than it got.
3 – Antiviral
With his first feature, Brandon Cronenberg made the kind of flick that I wish his father still did. Antiviral is a potent mix of bleak as hell body horror, sci-fi, and social commentary. Anyone who says that they are completely comfortable with doctors and medical procedures is lying to you, and Cronenberg wields this universal fear with surgical precision. Visually, the film is set in a clinical nightmare, all white tile and red smears. It’s a perfect backdrop for our protagonist, played brilliantly by Caleb Landry Jones (in what, if there is any justice in the film industry, will be a star making role), sell injections, shoot up the diseases of the stars, and puke a little blood in. The story may have a languid pace and occasionally lose focus, but the world that Cronenberg has constructed is fascinating enough to keep the viewer riveted. It feels vaguely futuristic with its bizarre machinery, yet chillingly familiar in a “I can absolutely see society’s celebrity worship going this direction, and soon” way. Brandon shows a lot of style, some great ideas, and a deft hand behind the camera. Antiviral has me looking forward to what he has in store for us.
2 – Found
Throughout December I agonized over my top 10 list as I always do. Finally, I had it all figured out. Then I saw Found at the last minute and had to completely rearrange everything. This coming of age tale of a bullied, horror obsessed kid and his serial killer brother absolutely blew my mind. The last time I saw a movie successfully put this kind of raw emotion on screen was Aronofsky’s The Wrestler. The last time I saw it achieved in a horror movie was, um… probably never. Don’t let all of this talk about the emotionally affecting story give you the wrong idea though. There’s hardcore depraved violence too. It’s like coupling chocolate and cayenne to make both flavors more intense through the contrast and interplay. One moment you’re feeling the pain of a kid losing a friend and the next someone is eating an eyeball. What enables Found to get under your skin so easily is just how well drawn the characters are. No one is a cliché and everyone is a shade of gray. From the killer animated credits sequence to the final shot of the film (which is probably my favorite single horror moment of the year), Found has that perfect mixture of heart, guts, and balls that only the best horror cinema achieves. After making the festival rounds throughout 2013, I sincerely hope that the flick gets a proper release because EVERYONE needs to see this one.
1 – The Seasoning House
When is an exploitation flick not just an exploitation flick? When it’s a true work of art, that’s when. The Seasoning House takes the old rape-revenge tropes, puts a twist on them, and tells the story so engagingly that it doesn’t feel sleazy and you don’t even miss the sleaze. Angel, a young deaf/mute girl, is orphaned, taken captive, and sold to a slave brothel by the military somewhere in the Balkans. Due to a birthmark (and the pimp’s affinity for her), she is spared “bed duty” and given the job of keeping the stock made up and doped up. When she befriends a new arrival only to see her murdered by the very soldiers that took her, revenge and survival become violent necessities.
The way the camera work and set design play off of each other is outstanding. The cinematography takes a grungy whorehouse and turns it into hell on earth. Long tracking shots, often from Angel’s vantage point, make the halls seem like endless corridors of torturous hopelessness. Similarly, the way the crawlspaces and heating ducts she inhabits are shot make them seem like a vast, subterranean world. The violence is brutal. The rape scenes are ugly and impactful. When it’s time to spill some blood, the gore effects look great. The script is tight, clever, logical, and well paced. With its relentlessly grim atmosphere and gut-wrenching plunge into the darkness of humanity, the temptation to go over the top had to have been great. Luckily, just the right amount of restraint is used. For example, when a little girl has to contend with a group of professional soldiers it could easily have devolved into “hardcore Home Alone” territory. It is written intelligently enough, however, that the action is believable.
The other thing that really makes this flick is the extraordinary acting. Our pair of villains is top notch. If you’re a genre cinema fan, or a cinema fan in general, I don’t need to sing Sean Pertwee’s praises to you. Kevin Howarth, who plays the brooding scumbag that runs the house, shows a true understanding of acting with an eye towards the bigger picture. The scenes he shared with Pertwee could have easily devolved into the two actors trying to “out evil” each other. We’ve seen it a million times. Howarth knows when to cower a little though, making “big bad” that much more menacing. It’s akin to a great pro wrestler knowing when to get his licks in but knowing when to take a beating and let the other guy shine for the sake of the story. The real breakout star is Rosie Day. I had never seen her before (she’s mainly been on British TV), but she put in the best performance by any actress in a genre flick this year. Her ability to combine the broken resignation of someone forced to do horrible things to survive with the innocence and sweetness of a child is heartbreaking. It’s even more impressive considering she doesn’t say a word the entire time. Portraying a complex character through pantomime is quite a feat, and she nails it.
All in all, this flick is a grimy, nasty, and exhilarating ride to hell and back. Aside from the unnecessary use of new-school camera tricks during a chase scene, it’s damn near flawless. First time director and long time makeup effects bad ass Paul Hyett has crafted a visceral masterpiece that grabs you by the throat and refuses to let go until it decides that it’s done with you. The Seasoning House carries my highest possible recommendation.
We Are What We Are, Would You Rather, and Antiviral are available wherever DVDs and Blu-rays are sold.
Found is available HERE, but quantities are limited, so hurry the hell up.The Seasoning House is available from your friendly neighborhood online retailer.