Greetings, Daily Dead readers! As I’m sure many of you are aware, that year sucked. Epically for most, around the world. Like others I turned to the arts for comfort and distraction, and like some, I found myself at a distance from the very thing I was turning to.
This was odd, and definitely new; horror had always been there to tend to my anxieties and shield me from reality if even only for a couple of hours. But during that year I found myself distracted watching the films I hold dearest—films like Burnt Offerings and Phantasm—while being equally blasé towards experiencing new horror offerings.
How could my cherished companion abandon me this way? Luckily, the indifference would fade away for moments—for minutes and hours—so that I could enjoy my old favorites and hopefully witness the birth of some new ones, too. And lo and behold, there were treasures and treats throughout that year, and when I could corral any good energy, it went towards exploring fiendish filmmakers making fresh marks (plus some returning all-stars). So, with all the hullabaloo and falderal afforded the occasion, below you shall find the things I liked best this past year.
Note: I missed a lot of things, what with no theatres open and release dates upended willy-nilly, just one man, anxiety, depression, etc. etc. We all coped differently with that year, and whatever helped you through, congrats. Okay, let’s chat about horror!
I heard on the street that there was a lot of great content on the small screen—come to think of it, that’s where most of the content was, period—but alas, I only glommed onto a couple of traditional TV series that were filled with delicious bon mots and/or glorious gore. I should say re-glommed (even if it’s a fake word) because the following returned after heralded first seasons.
WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS Season 2
There was some solid worldbuilding in season 2 of the FX series, but more importantly it deepened the characters’ relationships with each other, and with the other fine residents of Staten Island as well; the gang gets to mingle with the neighbors’ Superb Owl party, a girls volleyball team, landlords with centuries of grudges, and allegedly evil electronic communication. Even our fave familiar Guillermo finds himself expanding his résumé in interesting ways. WWDITS continues to charm with wit, great callbacks, and a very clear understanding of who the vampires are. (Other than Jackie Daytona, natch.)
A CREEPSHOW HALLOWEEN SPECIAL, A CREEPSHOW HOLIDAY SPECIAL
That year delayed Shudder’s production of Creepshow’s second season; in roll-with-the-punches fashion, production finally resumed and we were treated to two specials: A Creepshow Halloween Special and A Creepshow Holiday Special, the former housing two animated episodes including Stephen King’s infamous “Survivor Type,” and the latter telling one standalone tale. A different tact from the previous season, but one that gives the creative team—including FX/directing mastermind Greg Nicotero—a chance to showcase the series through slightly different lenses. The animated episodes are definitely intriguing in their practically single-panel simplicity, and the standalone story offers a fun monster mash as Adam Pally joins “Shapeshifters Anonymous” during the holiday season. Both episodes show that the future of Creepshow is in good and gnarled hands.
RETURN OF THE PODCAST PEOPLE
Even listening to my beloved pods was difficult at first; communication is sometimes hollow in times of distress, but I eventually came around. I haven’t had a chance to glom onto anything terribly new, but my tried and trues always came through in a year that needed them.
F This Movie!, Pure Cinema, Just the Discs, The Scream Queens, Hellbound for Horror, Faculty of Horror, Kill by Kill, Movie Oubliette, Horrorversary, Colors of the Dark, Horror Queers, Really Awful Movies, Dead Ringers, Post Mortem with Mick Garris, Seequels, and I’m sure I’ve missed others; the point being, I really like listening to passionate, funny people talk about movies with an obvious bent towards horror. These are a lot of them. Oh, and check out Corpse Club; my people tell me it’s “quite keen” and “free.”
Well hello, and welcome to the Book Section. Where I will regale you with tales of monsters and squirrel-eyed devils and sacrifices and stuff. I truly read so much that year that I have managed to retain none of it. Not a word. Pity.
But I swear, smothered in books.
LE FILM DU SHOCK
Don’t check the French on that; and if you have already, I apologize. Let’s get to the mashed potatoes on this terror buffet (yes, mashed potatoes; everything else must complement them): movies. Did I see a lot of them that year? I did not. But of the ones I did, several made enough of an impact for me to remember—and cherish. In no particular fashion:
I love writing so much, I hate it. This is a familiar refrain of anyone who puts pen to paper; people who just have to scribble regardless of fortune or renown. Or talent. It’s about the work, and Scare Me lays out that process in creative and hilarious ways. Two writers—one successful, one not—play a game of cat and mouse, bard and protégé, learned and knowing, as they meet and are soon engaged in a battle of words, taking turns as one tries to scare the other. Scare Me is about the art of finding that scare while still being an effective genre effort; imagine Deathtrap in a post-Scream world and you’re halfway there. The other half is the talents of writer/director/producer Josh Ruben and co-star Aya Cash, with a lovely assist from SNL’s Chris Redd. The film is essentially a chamber piece between two clashing egos learning on the fly, feeding off each other. Do you know how sometimes it’s just a joy to listen to dialogue? That’s Scare Me. Add in a cheeky zeal to the visuals, and you have a great take on the fragile yet ferocious nature of spinning a yarn.
What do you get when you take four troublesome city kids out to the countryside for some court-mandated survivalist training and they end up being hunted by an elite madman and his wife? Duked!, of course. The title makes sense in the context of the film, as does the original one, Boyz in the Wood. Writer/director Ninian Doff, inspired by the likes of Wright and Waititi, has crafted a very funny and sly take on The Most Dangerous Game with a likeable young cast and an expert turn from Eddie Izzard. DJ Beatroot for the win.
VAMPIRES VS. THE BRONX
The Monster Squad is pretty much the perfect Horror Recruitment PSA for youngsters, and it’s always refreshing to see someone take a run at the same formula, such as writer/director Oz Rodriguez has done with this Netflix original. Can a group of inner-city kids conquer a vampire gentrification? It has great representation, cool bloodsuckers, and gives kids their own heroes to cheer on.
THE PALE DOOR
Witches in the Wild West? Sign me up, pardner. A very simple premise—perhaps more apt as a Tales from the Crypt episode—is given a sugar rush by director/co-writer Aaron B. Koontz’s spirited second half, when the coven comes calling and the Dalton gang has to defend itself. The odds are stacked against them, however, as it’s the witches’ town, they have all the powers (sexual and otherwise), and pistolas do work, but ammo is finite. The film’s true power comes from the relationship between the two Dalton brothers, although a powerful ensemble ensures moments for all the characters to shine. Or die. (PS—they die good.)
Did this thing really come out in that year? Well, if it did, it deserves to be on this list; there’s no fat on this ocean-bound Alien riff that finds Kristen Stewart, Vincent Cassel, and others dodging Cthulhu and friends during a mining expedition, nor does it overstay its welcome, clocking in at a tidy 95. Director William Eubank (The Signal) makes the exposition to go, and before you can wrap your head around the events the credits are rolling. Sometimes I just want straight-up monster horror, be it land or sea, and when the pressure is applied, Underwater is relentless.
Score another for Netflix; while the back catalogue is practically non-existent, their original slate for horror is very promising (it has to be—there’s a lot of horror streaming and they need to be a part of it). Take special note of writer/director Remi Weekes, as His House is one hell of a calling card. It’s also incredibly sad and poignant. When a refugee couple from the South Sudan are relocated in the U.K., the dilapidated home they’re assigned is filled with... shadows. In the walls, in the corners. Shadows from the past that will not leave the couple alone. The refugee experience can be no place but front and center for a film looking to be honest—with its audience and with itself. His House is filled with raw emotion, and the horror emerges from that rawness.
Now onto something a little light... oops. Relic is decidedly uneasy viewing, especially if you’ve had a loved one suffer from dementia or any other terrible disease that steals the mind and soul. When three generations of women come to live under the grandmother’s roof to tend to her worsening condition, a black mold starts to overtake the house, while grandma becomes increasingly erratic. Much like His House, Relic’s themes are outfront to be experienced, and lived, in a state of melancholia and empathy. The home is never really for sale.
THE MORTUARY COLLECTION
I’ll end on the upbeat with an anthology film very much in the vein of EC Comics, Tales from the Crypt, and Creepshow—welcome to The Mortuary Collection, where Clancy Brown fills the same job description as Clarence Williams III does in Tales from the Hood, above and below ground. The film benefits from having one vision at work, and writer/director Ryan Spindell has crafted good-looking, well-written stories, with practical effects galore. It’s just a blast and proof, along with Scare Package, that the omnibus has gas left in the tank.
So, there you have it: that year did produce some good things; things that certainly helped me drag my carcass across the finish line, only to do it again. Have a gooder, stay safe, and stay sane.
Check back here for more Favorites of 2020 lists from the Daily Dead team!