Happy 2014 Everyone! Looking back, I thought 2013 was an exceptional year for horror, especially for independent genre fare that ended making up most of my favorite films over the last 12 months. In fact, 2013 ended up being so good, even a number of remakes that came out this year managed to be as strong as their original horror peers and that’s pretty damn impressive.
Here’s a look at some of my very favorite things that happened in horror along the way during 2013:
John Dies at the End:
I’d been waiting patiently to see Don Coscarelli’s John Dies at the End ever since I chatted him up about the project at SXSW 2012. Thankfully, the film didn’t disappoint at all when it was released last January. Wonderfully weird and oddly heartfelt, no one has quite mastered the art of the unexpected like Coscarelli has throughout his career and John Dies (much like Bubba Ho-Tep) elevates his brand of storytelling onto an entirely new playing field with one of the most deliriously entertaining and inventive movies this year. I’ve revisited John Dies at the End several times on both the big screen at home and I keep finding new things to love about it... it’s that much fun.
No One Lives “Human Body Bag” Moment:
I know it didn’t necessarily win over a lot of people, but I downright loved No One Lives. While it may not necessarily be a grandiose cinematic affair, the flick did feature one of my favorite moments from horror this year- the “Human Body Bag” scene For those who haven’t seen it, it’s hard to explain the context in which we find Luke Evans hiding out inside a human carcass without ruining too much of what makes the movie so badass. Suffice it to say, that reveal made my frigging year.
Lou Taylor Pucci in Evil Dead:
I really enjoyed Fede Alvarez’s take on the Evil Dead universe, but the one performance that really made the film was Lou Taylor Pucci as eventual human pincushion Eric. Sure, everyone stuck inside the infamous cabin takes their lumps and then some, but no one seemed to do so quite like Pucci’s character does. You can’t help but root for the guy after he’s attacked time and time again, and Pucci provides some much needed levity in Alvarez’s gleefully nasty film. There’s a lot that works great in Evil Dead, but Pucci’s performance is the glue that keeps it all together.
I don’t think there’s a movie that came out this year I’ve recommended to friends and film lovers as much as I have Resolution- it’s that damned great. A perfect example of independent horror done right, Resolution’s filmmakers Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead use their smaller-sized budget to their advantage, relying more on tension, performances and a bevy of unique storytelling devices that are unlike anything I’ve seen in some time. If you thought there weren’t any interesting stories left to tell in horror, then you haven’t seen Resolution. Absolutely a must-see film for any genre or filmmaking fans out there.
“Safe Haven” from V/H/S 2:
After downright hating V/H/S, I really had little hopes there would be much I’d enjoy about its sequel, but then comes along Gareth Evans and Timo Tjahjanto’s segment to prove me wrong. Centered around a mysterious cult known as The People of Paradise Gate, the amount of tension Evans and Tjahjanto manage to invoke with “Safe Haven” was worthy of ten full-length films and featured some of the most original and bat-shit crazy moments of horror by far. Just when you think you’ve got “Safe Haven” all figured out, the directors find a way to introduce new elements of insanity making for one of the most gleefully gut-wrenching experiences I’ve had all year in the theater.
I know the love for You’re Next is widespread amongst the online community and justifiably so. Director Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett’s darkly comedic home invasion story celebrated everything I love about the horror genre in some truly inventive and unexpected ways, which made the film an instantaneous classic in my book. The other aspect that made You’re Next one of my favorites for 2013 was the exceptionally talented ensemble Wingard brought together for the project.
While Sharni Vinson totally and completely rules the film as a total badass, You’re Next also features a handful of truly inspired performances by AJ Bowen, Joe Swanberg, Wendy Glenn, Nicholas Tucci and Barbara Crampton. There are also some wicked awesome kills, including the much-discussed brilliant “blender kill.” Hopefully You’re Next continues to gain the audience it so richly deserves.
Katharine Isabelle in American Mary:
Count me as a huge fan of The Soska Sisters’ latest cinematical endeavor, American Mary and a huge part of that is due to the breakout performance by Katharine Isabelle. Isabelle’s always been pretty great, but she proves in American Mary that she’s truly a star with a remarkably engaging and heartbreaking performance that I fell in love with. The Soska’s themselves serve up some powerhouse material with their tragic story of a medical student working outside of the system, but make no mistake, it’s Isabelle who knocks it right out of the park in American Mary.
The World’s End:
Probably the movie I was most looking forward to in 2013 (next to Pacific Rim), The World’s End was by far one of the most satisfying sequels released in some time. I don’t know if Edgar Wright has actually ever made a bad film, but The World’s End is by far his greatest achievement in storytelling. Co-written alongside the film’s star Simon Pegg, the duo somehow managed to craft a story was charming, hilarious, heartfelt and dripping in sci-fi/apocalyptic homages as well as a thoughtful exploration of the dangers of nostalgia.
Oh and if that wasn’t enough, there’s also some seriously impressive fight scenes which were on par with some of the bigger blockbusters of 2013, as well as a kickass soundtrack. The World’s End may have been the end of the “Cornetto Trilogy,” but I think it’s only the beginning of bigger things for Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost and I can’t think of a better note to end on than this.
Holy Shit. Those were really the only two words I could come up with the first time I experienced Ben Wheatley’s Sightseers, his pitch black dark comedy that follows two awkward lovers (Alice Lowe and Steve Oram) on a doomed road trip through Northern England. The story takes a detour once the pair become intertwined in a series of hilarious murders that forces them both to reevaluate their relationship and perhaps, their own nihilistic tendencies.
Wheatley’s films are often divisive and Sightseers is no different. Between Lowe and Oram’s blisteringly macabre and heartfelt performances and Wheatley’s gonzo-esque approach to the material, Sightseers was easily one of the most wickedly subversive genre films of 2013 and I loved every hilariously psychotic minute of it.
Riddick/Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters:
Two of the biggest surprises of 2013 for me had to be Riddick and Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, which earned them a shared spot on my favorites list this year. Both films exceeded any kind of expectations I had about them going in and are great examples of high-concept action/genre mash-ups that knew how to have fun with their respective material. While 2013 may have been a great year for smaller, indie fare, I think it was also a rather fantastic year for horror actioners as well. With Riddick and Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters being two of the best of the bunch, it once again demonstrates that you can’t always judge a book by its cover.
The Lords of Salem:
It may not necessarily be the best movie of 2013, but it’s definitely one of the films I’ve thought about the most this year. After working in the Halloween universe for the last several years, Rob Zombie returns to working with his own material once again with The Lords of Salem and the result is of the most ambitious films we’ve seen in his career. Whether you enjoyed the film or not, you really can’t help but admire Rob Zombie for the risks he took on The Lords of Salem.
Beyond the story and the engaging visuals, something else I really appreciated about The Lords of Salem was how Zombie treated his entire cast with respect, something you often don’t see when filmmakers are working with genre vets like Dee Wallace, Patricia Quinn, Meg Foster, Ken Foree and others. A lot of time, these actors are brought in to ‘sell’ a film, giving them a small part that’s mostly there to appease longtime horror fans and market a movie. Zombie, being a horror fan himself, smartly gives all his players great material to work from and it was absolutely refreshing to see some of the great talents in horror finally offered nuanced and thoughtful material once again.
The final film to make my favorites list is Evan Katz’s stunning directorial debut, Cheap Thrills, which I was fortunate enough to catch during SXSW 2013. Featuring a well-known cast who all deliver transformative and exemplary performances and a wickedly entertaining script by Trent Haaga and David Chirchirillo, Cheap Thrills is a slick and thought-provoking exploration of just how far any of us would go if offered the right asking price.
Surprising, clever and far more ingenious than the synopsis could possibly ever suggest, Cheap Thrills is a confident and well-crafted slice of subversive cinema that will be the best time you’ll ever have laughing at the misfortunes of others. Definitely put it on your must-see list for 2014- Cheap Thrills is a cinematic dare worth taking.
Editor’s Note: Check back every day this week to read more 2013 favorites from our other writers.
Our Favorite’s of 2013: