Hard to believe 2011 is already drawing to a close. But with a new year on the horizon (which also means lots of new horror flicks to enjoy), that makes this the perfect time to take a look back at my 11 favorite genre films of the year (in alphabetical order).
ATTACK THE BLOCK
ATTACK THE BLOCK is writer/director Joe Cornish’s triumphant love-letter to so many of my favorite films that many of us discovered as children growing up in the 80s- but what kicks the director’s approach up a notch is that he never crosses over the homage line and into rip-off territory. With hints of ET, THE WARRIORS, THE MONSTER SQUAD and GOONIES, ATTACK THE BLOCK is not only a heck of an epic alien invasion flick but it’s also a clever exploration of the concept of territoriality in lower-income housing. It’s a rarity in genre filmmaking to get stories that not only feel socially relevant but also manage to deliver top-notch edge-of-your-seat entertainment as well.
ATTACK THE BLOCK is a truly remarkable debut feature film that establishes him as a compelling storyteller that isn’t afraid to take calculated risks with original stories which is clearly a rarity these days. The movie has something for everyone- great laughs, interesting character arcs, intense action sequences and some down-right chilling and gory moments too. It’s one of the few movies this year that has completely lived up to the hype and I implore you to see ATTACK THE BLOCK for yourself if you haven’t already now that the flick’s released on both DVD and Blu-Ray formats.
CORMAN’S WORLD: EXPLOITS OF A HOLLYWOOD REBEL
Dismissed as a schlockmeister and purveyor of B-movie trash by some film snobs, Roger Corman is the subject of Alex Stapleton’s affectionate and engaging documentary entitled CORMAN’S WORLD: EXPLOITS OF A HOLLYWOOD REBEL, which examines the legendary producer’s astonishing six-decade long career while also underlining his importance in the formation of modern Hollywood – both for independent cinema and the studio blockbuster system alike.
Featuring a gaggle of in depth and candid interview subjects profiling Corman’s influence as the maverick of independent cinema, genre fans should absolutely seek out Stapleton’s documentary upon its release. In fact, during one of the doc’s more profound moments, we see Jack Nicholson break down and cry while trying to express his gratitude for Roger’s belief in him early on when the actor was struggling to launch his career.
It’s no surprise that CORMAN’S WORLD will delight genre fans everywhere who are familiar with the iconic filmmaker’s work, but what’s even more remarkable is that this documentary is surprisingly accessible to mainstream audiences as well- there’s a lot for everyone to enjoy even if you’re only a casual filmgoer at best. You’ll be hard pressed to find a more intelligent, entertaining, thought-provoking and inspiring documentary this year than Stapleton’s Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel.
DRIVE ANGRY 3D
I was sadly in the majority as I missed out on experiencing DRIVE ANGRY 3D when it hit theaters this past February so my only experience with the film was on Blu-Ray and in a non-3D format this past Spring. That being said, even though I didn’t necessarily see the movie the way director Patrick Lussier intended, it still managed to tickle my demented funny bone of sorts and is a worthy entry into my top 11 list for 2011.
DRIVE ANGRY is fun-fueled exploitation bliss that hearkens to the golden days of grindhouse flicks and featured the pure spectacle of the car/action movies of the 70s. Lussier, as a director, has never been so ambitious and I applaud his and co-writer Todd Farmer’s script that seemed to balance action, comedy and camp with ease. And even though my Blu-Ray was not in 3D (and there are clearly moments in DRIVE ANGRY where it was definitely apparent that certain shots were created to compliment the 3D), I honestly enjoyed the hell out of the movie in the 2D format; you don’t really miss out on two much if you can’t/don’t experience DRIVE ANGRY in 3D.
Overall, if you’re a fan of movies like Planet Terror, Death Proof, Hobo With A Shotgun or earlier faves like Duel or Roger Corman’s original Death Race 2000, Drive Angry is definitely going to be right up your proverbial alley. Even though it ended up D.O.A in theaters earlier this year, exploitation fans would be remiss if they didn’t check out Drive Angry in their own homes; it’s a cult classic waiting to happen and definitely deserves to find an audience one way or another.
HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN
It may be weird to say this but I kind of found HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN a breath of fresh, sleazy air after seeing it during the 2011 SxSW Film Festival. Much of that is definitely to the credit of first-time feature director Jason Eisener who was expanding on the fake trailer that he and writer John Davies made in 2007 as part of a contest for the GRINDHOUSE Double Feature by Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino. The film somehow immediately sets the right tone, and maintains its “nouveau homage” spirit right until the credits roll. I’m not sure if Eisener grew up a “Grindhouse” fan or if he dug Rutger Hauer’s iconic performance in THE HITCHER as much as I did, but I’d love to hope (based on seeing HWAS) so.
The key to making the concept of HWAS to work effectively is to play it with a straight face. Luckily, Eisener and Hauer clearly knew what they were doing from the start because the actor demonstrates in another iconic performance that he knows the audience is watching a movie called HWAS and he’s hip to the joke.
HWAS is true cinematic magic for fans of ‘Grindhouse’ films and proves that once and for all, there are glimpses of hope for independent filmmakers everywhere that a movie like HWAS can get made and distributed globally. Eisener proves that he is a force to be reckoned with at a very early stage in his career and with touches of Troma, EVIL DEAD, BLUE VELVET, MAD MAX, DEATH RACE and oddly enough, the first live-action TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES, HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN is by far the most awesomely inappropriate movie of 2011.
I don’t think I was more terrified sitting in a movie theater this year than I was the night I saw James Wan’s INSIDIOUS. Playing as a very straightforward terror tale, INSIDIOUS introduces us to an average suburban family struggling with everyday life: Josh (Patrick Wilson) and Renee (Rose Byrne) have just moved into a new house for their three small children, and a pair of careers that keep them in an underlying struggle for each other’s attention. The story really begins picking up when one morning, their young son Dalton (Ty Simpkins) refuses to wake up. He’s not in a coma, exactly, but the doctors simply don’t know how to bring him around. The story quickly jumps to a few months later and Dalton now resides (and continues to remain in his coma-like sleep) at home — and that’s when then the proverbial poop bucket hits the fan.
Wan and who reteamed with Leigh Whannell (wrote the script in addition to pulling actor duty) seem entirely intent on keeping INSIDIOUS a glowing example of the old-school approach to horror being effective storytelling for modern audiences. The film has an incredibly organic feeling (much due to a very low amount of CG used) and as the story began to unfold, I completely slipped right into Whannell’s story, which is a testament to his ability to creep you out and keep you guessing until the very end.
Being a huge fan of the SAW franchise, I had high expectations going into INSIDIOUS and the film blew every one of them out of the water. I may actually believe this is Wan and Whannell’s best collaboration to date as they both seem more poised in their roles as storytellers (with Wan’s vision and Whannell’s words) here and I haven’t enjoyed getting this scared sitting in a theater in a long time.
In Scott Leberecht’s indie vampire film MIDNIGHT SON, we meet the unassuming Jacob (Zak Kilberg) who is the loner type that keeps some very dark secrets. See, his whole life he’s been different- he’s been allergic to the sun since he was a boy and now he’s facing some changes in his appetite. Food no longer satisfies him and no matter how much he eats, he still appears to be malnourished and emaciated. It’s one fateful night that Jacob tries drinking the blood from his steak where everything changes and he begins to come to the realization that he may be turning into a bloodsucker.
At its core, MIDNIGHT SON is most certainly a vampire love story but don’t worry, there’s nothing even remotely close to the sparkly vampires of TWILIGHT going on here. Writer/director Leberecht demonstrates in his debut feature film that he’s not looking to tread the same material as others working in the horror genre- instead, with MIDNIGHT SON, he manages to give us a delicate character study reflecting the isolating lifestyle of Hollywood as well as giving us an unflinching look at what it would really be like to become someone who craves human blood. What does that do to your humanity? How far are you willing to go to survive? These are the questions Leberecht and his cast explore and shows us that there are no easy answers here.
A mix of MARTIN and LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (with a hint of AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON minus most of the humor), MIDNIGHT SON is one of the most haunting and stunning independent horror films I’ve seen in years. Plus, it also gets bonus points for an homage to Tom Holland’s FRIGHT NIGHT that tickled this fan’s fancy.
PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3
For the last few years, the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY flicks have given us all reason to head to multiplexes each October, waiting for the latest frights and thrills and the latest in the franchise definitely delivers both…and then some.
Originally conceived by Oren Peli, what’s remarkable about this series of films is that (against the odds), each PARANORMAL ACTIVITY flick not only masterfully elevates the entire series’ mythology but also manages to successfully amp up the freak-out factor for fans everywhere, making PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3 hands down the best entry in the series.
Detractors might argue that these films get dangerously close to retreading the same material over and over; that is not the case at all with PA3. In fact, with the material introduced in this prequel, we come to realize that so much of what fans thought they knew about these movies wasn’t the case at all, thereby reinvigorating the franchise as a whole. And frankly, I’m already counting down the days to the inevitable PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 in 2012.
RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES
I love being right.
From the very first frame of the very first trailer released for RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, I was sold. As a huge fan of the original PLANET OF THE APES series, it finally seemed like someone understood what fans were looking for in a contemporary addition to our beloved original franchise. There were a lot of naysayers online who lamented over the use of digital apes and James Franco’s wooden stares, but this writer’s enthusiasm for the prequel never waned once- I was ready to see just how the rise of the apes began on the big screen for myself and a bunch of internet chatter wasn’t getting in the way of that.
And somehow, RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES actually managed to exceed my already high expectations and apparently it seemed to exceed everyone else’s as well since the flick ended up taking in over $176 million in domestic box office receipts. Sure, there were a few minor issues with the film (Franco ended up being one of those) but overall, the reason RISE worked and Tim Burton’s remake didn’t was because director Rupert Wyatt made sure to pay attention to what makes an APES film truly successful- the apes themselves. Whereas Burton’s were all mostly angry and one-dimensional, Wyatt delivered to us not only a chimpanzee leader fans could believe in but several more primates that made the flick all the more enjoyable as well (including Maurice the Orangutan).
If you missed RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES while it was in theaters, then do yourself a favor and make sure you see it now that the movie has hit all the home release formats. While there have been a lot of great action films of 2011, RISE definitely leads the pack in terms of creating a kickass movie with brains and heart (and an epic bridge battle that will leave actionphiles breathless to boot).
In STAKE LAND, audiences are introduced to a new bleak future- one where the world is now a harrowing post-apocalyptic landscape due to a vampire outbreak that spread throughout the United States in the near future. Director Jim Mickle wastes no time introducing the film’s heroes either- the world-weary and mysteriously named Mister (Nick Damici) and a young man named Martin (Connor Paolo) who is saved by the man of mystery after his family is brutally attacked by a random vampire. The pair set off after their fateful meeting in search of New Eden, a town that is supposedly untouched by the vampire apocalypse and stands as their lone beacon of hope.
As far as the story goes, Mickle and co-writer Nick Damici do an admirable job of creating a story that even though at its core is pretty basic, it still manages to incorporate some powerful themes and that’s what makes STAKE LAND so compelling to watch. The pair unfold their story as a morality play (without ever getting preachy) that demonstrates to the viewer a powerful lesson- even in a world full of dangerous vampires and other various concerns (like needing guns and the lack of running water), the biggest threat to any of our survival is still our fellow man.
As a horror fan, I found STAKE LAND to be one of the best modern vampire films I’ve seen in the last 10 years. A mix of 30 DAYS OF NIGHT, THE ROAD, and WICKER MAN (just a teensy bit), STAKE LAND is a superb superior genre effort for Mickle and a must-see for any genre fan looking for a bold and refreshing spin on the classic vampire lore.
Since 1999′s THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, a lot of people have tried their hand at making found footage films. Some have succeeded in delivering a great cinematic experience (PARANORMAL ACTIVITY) and some have fallen flat on their faces (DIARY OF THE DEAD). I am happy to report that TROLLHUNTER firmly falls into the first category- it’s a breathtaking spectacle of reality meets fantasy that holds you firmly in its grasp until the very last frame of the film.
TROLLHUNTER initially starts off with three college film students, Kalle (Tomas Alf Larsen), Johanna (Johanna Mørck) and Thomas (Glenn Erland Tosterud) who are trying to find and interview a local poacher about a mysterious string of bear killings in Norway even though hunting bears without a license is illegal in the country. Seeing a compelling story brewing right in front of them, the trio locate the equally mysterious poacher who refuses to speak with them. Undaunted, the film students finally track the poacher to a wooded area where all hell breaks loose and the students suddenly realize there’s a lot more going on in those woods than killing bears.
All in all, TROLLHUNTER filled a huge void for me in genre movies for 2011- it seems like no one really explores fairy tales and folklore these days which is a damn shame because Øvredal proves here that there is a lot of rich and compelling stories ripe for the picking. He managed to take a topic I studied in grade school and make it engrossing, scary and funny which also demonstrates the power of great storytelling on a lower end budget. He’s a filmmaker to watch and I hope he snags some US projects soon because I’d love to see what he could do on the US side of filmmaking. Overall, if you’re looking for a genre movie that skews a bit off the beaten path, then I highly recommend checking out TROLLHUNTER.
Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil
In Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil, we meet our titular characters played by Tyler Labine and Alan Tudyk who are two longtime redneck friends with a simple dream of owning a vacation house in the woods by a lake. They end up sinking their life savings into a “fixer upper” cabin and proudly head up to their new place for the weekend to fish, drink beer, and get to work on repairing their new investment. On the way, they cross paths with a group of college kids heading up to the same woods. Dale is immediately taken by Allison (Katrina Bowden), but his surly appearance and inability to converse with the ladies gives Allison and her friends the impression that Tucker and Dale are two uneducated and creepy hillbillies that mean to harm them; what follows in Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil is a gruesome comedy of errors that should leave you rollicking in its wake.
A lot of people will say that blending horror and comedy is rather easy because the two genres prey on the same kinds of reactions from their respective audiences but honestly, I’ve seen more bad than good horror comedies in my day. Thankfully, co-writer and director Eli Craig gets the formula absolutely right on Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil, making it THE best horror comedy since Edgar Wright’s SHAUN OF THE DEAD in 2004. The script is amazingly crafted by Craig and his co-writer Morgan Jurgenson, hitting all the right comedic beats as it takes every horror cliché we’ve grown to love over the last 30 years and turns it squarely on its head.
On the verge of sounding downright cheesy, Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil is hands down the “feel good” genre movie of the year and if you’ve yet to experience this film, do yourself a favor and pick it up! It’s easily one of the most heartfelt and genuinely entertaining horror/comedies of the past few years and even if you’re not a horror fan, there’s still plenty of fun to be had with these two lovable hillbillies.