We thought we weren’t going to be able to find 10 best films this year, let alone 13. But when JennyD, crow and myself actually sat down and went through our lists, we found plenty of gems that we felt needed to be recognized. This list runs the gambit from independent hauntings to adorably disturbing stop-motion to big budget sci-fi horror. So there’s plenty for every type of fan out there. And compared to last year’s highly gorgeous, well-made but incredibly depressing films, this list is a picnic (a blood drenched picnic, but still).
The real winners this year are the monster kids and kids-at-heart – we saw a resurgence of the creepy, weird and wonderful films for younger viewers. JennyD called them gateway films, and she’s not wrong. These movies, aside from being fun, scary and touching all at the same time, help introduce kids to a world where although things may seem normal, by the end of the film they (and we) are taught normal is boring and weirdness is something to be celebrated. Good lesson for people of any age.
Of course, we didn’t get to every film, so we freely admit there’s some stuff that should be on this list that isn’t there solely because we couldn’t get out to the theater. We do our best. So here it is, the Lucky 13 of 2012:
- ABCs of Death – The anthology film has made quite the comeback in 2012, and I’d say ABCs is the strongest of the bunch. 26 short films made by 26 different directors, each with one letter of the alphabet to guide them. With that many shorts, the odds would tell you that most of them would be fair to mediocre, with a few gems and a few total bombs. There were definitely a few that should have been left on the cutting room floor, but that’s to be expected in any movie with 26 directors. However, the pleasant surprise is that well more than half of these creepy, gory and sometimes intensely disturbing shorts were not only enjoyable, but beautiful and thought-provoking as well. Special mention to letters A, D, O, R, U and X. I’d say why, but that would be giving too much away. Just check it out for yourself.
- The Bay – You most likely didn’t even know this film existed unless you have an Xbox (that’s where we found it), and that’s sad for everyone, because The Bay is a creepy found footage flick that’s a little too close to reality for my comfort. It’s directed by Barry Levinson, whose best known for more kind-hearted fare like Rain Main, Toys and Wag the Dog. But then again, he also did Sleepers, which is pretty damn horrific, so he’s got it in him. In The Bay, a small town in the Chesapeake Bay area is overrun by a ecological virus/disaster. The incident is covered up by the government, with the movie consisting of the leaked footage of what really happened. It combines Jaws with early Cronenberg body horror films. The creepiest part of this whole film is that according to Levinson, about 80-85% of it is fact-based. Originally, Levinson was approached to make a documentary about the Chesapeake Bay, but after he realized there was not only viewer apathy but a Frontline documentary that covered most of the information, he decided to tweak it for a feature film. Isopods are real, the incredible amount of pollution in the Chesapeake Bay is real. The film is a great watch, but the reality is scary enough.
- Cabin in the Woods – We already reviewed this wildly hilarious film earlier in the year, so most of what we needed to say was said there. This movie rocks – probably my pick for best of the year.
- Frankenweenie – I love Tim Burton, but I won’t lie that in the last several years I haven’t loved most of his output in general. It’s just seemed less…weird. And special – that special strange that he used to deliver in spades. However, Frankenweenie, a stop-motion animated tale (based on Burton’s 1984 live action short ) is a much welcome return to form. It’s also a love letter to monster kids and monster movies, with references to so many classic films it’s hard to keep track of them all. But if you love your Burton in the flavor of Edward Scissorhands, Beetlejuice and The Nightmare Before Christmas (yes, I know he didn’t direct it. It’s still part his. Shut up), this is definitely one to watch. And bring the kids.
- The Grey – If seeing Liam Neeson tape broken bottles to his knuckles to fight wolves isn’t enough incentive to see this movie, well, you probably won’t see it based on this recommendation either. The Grey got a little lost in the shuffle (and the cinematic black hole that is January), and probably suffered from misleading marketing as well. The trailers made it look like an action-packed Taken 3: Wolves! Not so much, marketing team. Liam Neeson and a bunch of other plane crash survivors must battle not only the freezing temperatures, blinding wind and lack of food, but some big ass wolves decide they want in on the free dinner. Given that the tone of the film was completely misrepresented, I can see why people would feel a little cheated. But go in with an open mind, and you’ll find that while it might not be what you expect, there’s a great survival horror film in there.
- Livide – It’s French. There’s a creepy ballerina girl. Do I really need to say much more to catch your interest?
- The Loved Ones – I reviewed this one already, so there’s not much to add here. It’s great. Keep up the good work, Australia.
- Lovely Molly – Directed and co-written by Eduardo Sanchez (one half of the pair behind The Blair Witch Project), Lovely Molly is one of those films that on paper didn’t seem so great. But I very much enjoyed the Wicker Man-type vibe, the strong performance from Gretchen Lodge as Molly, and the open to interpretation ending. I liked it even better the second time around.
- The Pact – After her mother’s death, a pair of sisters (Caity Lotz and Anges Bruckner) move back into their childhood home, where things are not what they seem. The film focuses mainly on Lotz in a strong performance, with Casper Van Dien in a supporting role. The film handles the building tension well, without showing too much, and Haley Hudson plays one freaking creepy girl with a connection to the supernatural.
- Paranorman – Another gateway movie, this time about a young boy who can see and converse with the dead, and how sometimes even the dead can be misunderstood. I really loved this movie, both for its sweetness and for the references that came about every minute (but didn’t distract from the film). Double feature this with Frankenweenie and you’ve got a great night of creating some new horror fans.
- Prometheus – I have so much to say about Prometheus that it’s almost impossible to cut it short for this top 13. And since crowbait already covered this one, I’ll leave my thoughts until later. An imperfect creation this might be, but it’s head and shoulders above most other director’s best work. Alien fan or not, it’s a must for any sci-fi or horror fan.
- Sinister – If you saw the trailer for Sinister, I’m sorry, because it gives SO much away (not that this is a huge shock, since trailers pretty much always do that now). It’s especially a shame here, though, because while Sinister doesn’t reinvent the wheel, it does go for a different take on a standard formula. Ethan Hawke plays a true crime writer so desperate for another successful book that he moves his family into a house where some horrific murders occurred. He also discovers some suspicious-looking filmstrips and player in the attic, sitting all by itself. When he starts to watch them (like you do), he begins to uncover not only some creepy footage of murders but clues that all of these deaths may be linked. Hawke plays his character well, and by that I mean he’s not particularly likable – he lies constantly, he’s selfish and kind of a jerk. But he also loves his kids and thinks he’s doing something that will help them (even though he is WILDLY off base about the whole “help” thing). His choice to try and solve these filmstrip mysteries is a terrible idea (or there wouldn’t be a movie), and once things start getting weird there’s some great creepy scares – and yes, a few crappy jump scares and stings. But when the scares are played right, they really work. Using multiple media (filmstrips, photos, computers) create some effective moments, especially when they’re not telegraphed. I can’t emphasize enough how much better the mood and scares are when they’re not telegraphed. The film boasts some excellent lighting (especially in the darker, low-lit scenes) and carries an atmosphere of dread for most of its running time. Definitely an enjoyable, unsettling flick.
- V/H/S – Our second anthology film on this list, V/H/S is a little uneven but still interesting and unique enough to earn a place on our list. Special mention to “Amateur Night” and “10/31/98” – definitely the strongest of the set. But almost all of them (with perhaps one exception) have something interesting to keep your attention.
So there it is, horror-loving friends, the FGSG top 13. We’re looking forward to what 2013 will bring. ~SF.