Sunday, 1 January 2012

The 10 Best Horror Films of 2011

Insidious is the second highest grossing horror movie of the year. It is also the most profitable film of the year1. With a production budget of $1.5million2 it has made $97m worldwide3. Although Insidious is an indie its success is why the studios invest in horror.

With 100 years of history and hundreds of millions of American dollars at their disposal Hollywood should be getting it right exponentially more than they get it wrong. The market does not change. Human beings want to be told good stories. Unfortunately for horror film fans there were not that many good stories told in 2011.

When horror films are made right they become folklore. The Exorcist 1973 is before my time but I heard the stories in my childhood; people fainting at screenings, priests sprinkling holy water on patrons, congregations returning to church4. The Exorcist is also the highest grossing horror film ever made: it has tallied over $1billion (inflation adjusted) at the worldwide box office5.

Every year the Horror Fanboy waits for another The Exorcist. Regardless of its box office success Insidious is not it. The best horror films this year were independents with small budgets. While that is horror’s modus operandi (by default) studio successes like Scream 1996 serve to reinvigorate the genre.

It is easier to list a top 50 worst horror films of the year than it is to list a top 10 best. The output is artistically bankrupt from Hollywood, the independents and the rest of the world. The bar has been dropped so low that mediocre nonsense like Insidious is the most successful film of the year in any genre.

The criteria for the following 10 films are horror films only – not thrillers or other genres that borrow horror tropes. Thus Season of the Witch starring Nicolas Cage doesn’t qualify; but if it was horror it would have qualified for the 10 Worst Horror Films of 2011. Other criteria are release dates 1st January – 31st December in the UK/US. Releases include all formats from theatrical to VOD to Straight-to-DVD.

Everyone has the opportunity to see these films.

One of these films is a flawed story with its broken heart bleeding onscreen. Three are entertaining. Two are honest attempts at storytelling. Four are worthy entries into the horror cannon. They will be considered for Top Horror Films of the decade.

Before then – this is what 2011 looked like:

10 Dream House US
Director Jim Sheridan and actors Rachel Weisz, Daniel Craig, Naomi Watts and Elias Koteas is a producer’s wet dream. It turned out to be a nightmare for Sheridan who tried to have his name removed from the credits6.The public will never know what happened to screw this project up but what remains onscreen is poignant.

Talent rises. Dream House is a flawed project but is better than most 2011 horror films on their best day.
9 Husk US
Click poster for review.
8 Rammbock GER
Click poster for review.
7 Quarantine 2: Terminal US
[REC] 2007 spawned a franchise. To date there has been a sequel and a remake. 2012 sees the (Spanish) release of the trilogy film [REC]3. 2011 saw the sequel to the American remake Quarantine 2008.
Some zombie films have no agenda except for make up, special effects and stunts – Flight of the Living Dead 2007, Day of the Dead 2008 and Quarantine 2. That mode of storytelling is more astute than the laborious The Walking Dead.

6 Stake Land US
Camcorder cinema announced itself to the world in1999 via The Blair Witch Project. It wasn’t until Cloverfield 2008 that it became a subgenre unto itself. It is mainly used for the Found Footage (Apollo 18 2011) and POV film(La Casa Muda 2011). Stake Land uses it in place of 35mm.

I believe cinema is scope ergo the camcorder is anti-cinema. These student project-types films can be shown as Syfy exclusives. Stake Land breaks the mould but it hasn’t changes my mind. Stake Land is a one-off. You can literally see the effort put into each shot and setup. The story isn’t bad either.

Film co stars Danielle Harris. A Final Girl doing her bit to support the genre on the apocalypse front.
5 The Woman US
The Woman is a thematic sequel to Offspring 2009. The more important connection is that both films are based on novels by Jack Ketchum. Stephen King describes Ketchum as the ‘scariest guy in America’7. That’s a compliment – if you’re a Stephen King fan.

If you’re not a King fan then take my word for it. Buy Ketchum’s back catalogue. Watch his films. Start with Offspring. Then The Woman. Then the rest. You’ll thank me.

He’s different.
4 The Caller US
Click poster for review.
3 Attack the Block UK
Click poster for review.
2 The Dead UK
This is a film made by white English and set in West Africa yet is bereft of racism. This film is a miracle.
The closest thing to compare it to is Night of the Living Dead 1968. Like the latter The Dead’s budget constraints can be seen onscreen. The Dead can also be favourably compared to Romero’s Dawn of the Dead 1978 in its ambition and scope.

An American mercenary crash lands off Africa’s Gold Coast. Once washed ashore he is surrounded by zombies. He makes his way inland and teams up with an army deserter. Together they must find an airfield before the whole continent is overrun.
The Dead is beautiful, haunting, tragic, defiant, hopeful, human and horrific. It will première 14th February in America on DVD.

I envy the yanks this much: they’ve got great cinema to experience in 2012.

1 Cropsey US
This documentary had a limited release of four screens in 2010. In 2011 it found life on DVD. To wit for those who do not live in the Staten Island vicinity Cropsey8 was a 2011 DVD premiere. That qualifies it for inclusion on this list.

Two New York filmmakers retreat back to Staten Island to investigate the urban legend of their childhood. What they discover and uncover is the horror – child abuse, kidnap and murder. What’s more horrifying is the complicity of the community of Staten Island in creating the conditions for Cropsey.

This documentary illuminates the helplessness a community has in the face of a predator. That helplessness does not come about by conspiracy – it is the result of neglect. This is one of the few horror films that is accurately based on a true story.
Three in this list are foreign. One of them is a Hollywood production. There are two sequels, two ghost stories, one vampire and three zombies. I wish I could expand the list to a top 20 but that would mean dumbing down like the mainstream audience.

We’re in 2012 already and it’s another chance for the industry to screw things up. This year sees the publication of A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Return on this very site. Will it change the face of horror? Night of the Living Dead 1968 did.

Happy New Year. It’s 2012 already. The year of Thrill Fiction.

Read more Thrill Fiction: The 10 Best Horror Films of 2010
1 Insidious Hollywood Reporter
4 The Exorcist BBC
5 The Exorcist box office The Numbers
6 Sheridan wanted his name off Dream House LA Times
8 Cropsey homepage
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