2011 was a really shitty year for horror. There’s no reason to dance around it; it just sucked. Sure, some good movies managed to find release, but not nearly enough. You know it’s been a bad 12 months of genre when it’s a struggle to assemble a Top 10 filled with films that leave any kind of a significant mark– and even then, several are just unreleased films from 2010. But such is the genre these days…
The latest from May director Lucky McKee isn’t for everyone. Not just because its content is often rough to watch, but because it’s an increasingly specific movie; the kind where what McKee is going for either works or doesn’t work for you. And honestly, I’m not entirely sure it does work for me, but there’s no denying that it’s unique and memorable and I really respect that.
I’ve taken a lot of flak for defending the hell out of Fright Night, but I’ll take everything the haters have got if it means at least one more person gives this smart, unique remake a shot. Yes, it has the exact same structure as the original, but it’s a damned sight more complicated under the hood than people are giving it credit for. I wish the CGI had been stronger, but that’s a complaint that can be registered against any other flick on this list.
Seconds Apart is the most interesting flick After Dark Horror films has ever been involved with. And though their roster isn’t the strongest on the block, saying that isn’t being charitable, either. It falters a bit crossing its own strange finish line, but overall it’s a well made chiller that ranks high in the admittedly small niche of scary twin movies.
Troy Nixey’s directorial debut isn’t a grand slam (only the top two films on this list are), but it’s a creepy, freaky little funhouse filled with slick camera work and devilish blend of macabre fantasy. Guy Pearce and Katie Holmes are both miscast, but Bailee Madison and the sharp-fingered crawlies from deep within the Earth make up for it.
Jee-woon Kim’s I Saw the Devil is one of the most brutal movies you’ll see this or any year. It’s one of the most savage serial killer movies ever made, is nearly without moral compass, and features two of Korea’s finest actors battling it out like the titans they are.
It’s a shame that Undocumented didn’t become the hit it deserved. It should have paved bigger and immediate paths for first time feature director Chris Peckover. It’s bold, it’s uncompromising and it leaves an imprint. I’ve actually only seen it the one time back in 2010 (when it ranked high on my unreleased list), but it’s still more memorable than every single studio-produced horror film this year.
Even though this is a straight-up but unofficial remake of Near Dark but with the gender roles reversed, it’s still one of the coolest, most seductive horror flicks to hit US shores this year. If you’re tired of tepid vampire movies, and I’m not talking about just Twilight, this is the bloodsucking shot in the arm you need.
Insidious is just a creepy movie, plain and simple. It could end stronger, but it’s got a great cast and, more importantly, a unique take on the family-moves-into-a-haunted-house formula that I’d practically written off for dead. Plus, it’s a movie that’s held up surprisingly well on repeat viewings, which is always a welcome bonus.
The most fun I’ve had in a movie theater all year was attending the world premiere of Joe Cornish’s Attack the Block, one of the best alien invasion movies around. I’ve written about it extensively already, so there’s nothing more to say than see this movie as soon and with as many like-minded genre fans as possible.
Ti West does not fuck around. Not only is The Innkeepers the scariest movie of the year, but it’s also one of the funniest. It features the finest female performance of the year (if you weren’t already taking Sara Paxton seriously, this will make you), a script that absolutely nails what it’s like spending long hours with a close co-worker at a dead-end job, and an unfailing understanding of how to build nerve-wracking tension without overdosing on violence. It’s a brilliant, inspired film that proves better than anything else on this list that fantastic horror is indeed not dead.
When Frontiere(s) came out and buzz pegged Xavier Gens as one of the genre’s new directors to watch, I just didn’t see it. However, The Divide makes a much stronger argument for that case. If anything, it’s almost too unchained of a film, but even though I prefer the sanity of the first half of the film over the last half’s batshit insane moments, it’s still a worthwhile piece of genre filmmaking. Plus, I’m just a sucker for films set in a single-location.
The duo of filmmakers behind Rabies contend that it’s Israel’s first horror movie, though I’d counter that by saying I’m still not sure Israel has ever produced a real horror movie. Don’t get me wrong, Rabies is a good movie and an even greater watch with a group, but it’s a horror movie in the same sense that Tucker & Dale vs. Evil or Shark Night 3D are horror movies. Sure, its characters and the violence that happens to them demands to be taken more seriously, but it plays off of an audience’s knowledge of horror movies with the same twisted smile.
Sleep Tight is the kind of movie will seed a dark species of thoughts about what happens when you sleep, especially if you’re an attractive girl who lives in an apartment building on her own. Luis Tosar is fantastic as the creepy mofo behind it all, and Jaume Balaguero (one half of the team behind [Rec]) ratchets it all together with minimal stumbles.
Not to over hype You’re Next or anything, but Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett’s film is so infectiously entertaining, were it an actual disease, the CDC would have to contain it. It has a pitch-perfect cast filled with familiar faces (AJ Bowen, Barbara Crampton) and some new faces that just kill it (Sharni Vinson, Nicholas Tucci). This is the kind of movie that you need to just read about once and then see at your earliest convenience. Don’t test the waters with trailers, just file it away in your brain and show up the second it’s available at a theater near (or far) from you.
Kill List is the kind of movie that burrows into your brain. It’s haunting, it’s original and it clips along like a seamless, unwinding nightmare. The less said about it the better. Not because it’s filled with twists and turns, but because the second Neil Maskell takes the screen, you’re going to be so drawn into his dark world that you’re not even going to remember these words, anyway. See it.
Note: For the purposes of this list, “genre” is a catch-all term for anything that’s not strictly horror, but that fans of horror movies will undoubtedly enjoy.
There were a number of French crime thrillers that got a lot of buzz this year, but for some unknown reason The Prey wasn’t one of them. Yes, it’s directed by Eric Valette, the guy who made Hybrid and the One Missed Call remake, but trust me when I say it’s a taut, kick-ass little thriller that deserves the spotlight stolen by the lesser Point Blank.
I can understand the argument of calling The Skin I Live In a full-blooded horror movie, but I think the tone and structure of it makes it hard to pin down as such. Either way, it’s one of the most evocative films of 2011, it’s immaculately crafted with gorgeous cinematography and features an indelible mad doctor scenario captained by one of the finest performances of Antonio Banderas’ career.
If I’m praying for anything on this list to get a US release as quickly as possible, it’s Headhunters. It’s already on the remake chopping block (technically it’ll be a re-adaptation of the book Headhunters is based on), and with good reason: It’s lean, it’s got great characters, worthwhile pay-offs, and energy to spare. It’s one of my favorite films of the year.
The Yellow Sea is by far my favorite Korean movie of the year, ranking higher than even I Saw the Devil. It’s long, but if you like thrillers about an underdog getting in over his head just to make a buck, it is well, well worth the chunk of your day it’ll take to watch it. The chase scenes are jaw-dropping, the knife fights legendary. As with Headhunters, it’s one of my favorite films of the year regardless of genre.
Even if you’re not into anime, I beg that you watch Redline (yes, it came out in 2009 in Japan, but it’s just now releasing in the US). This movie is like a candy-coated shot of ecstasy and adrenaline all mainlined straight into your heart. If it doesn’t get your ticker ticking, your internals are brizoke.
Tags: Attack the Block, Best Horror Movies of 2011, DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK, FRIGHT NIGHT, Headhunters, I Saw the Devil, Insidious, Kill List, Rabies, Readline, Seconds Apart, Sleep Tight, The Divide, The Innkeepers, The Prey, The Skin I Live In, The Woman, The Yellow Sea, Undocumented, We are the Night, You're Next