Happy New Year everyone, and welcome to my faves of ‘22. It’s become redundant to say “it was another great year” but goddammit I can’t lie: 2022 was loaded with quality horror, up and down the line, across all media.
This means as with every recent year, I have missed several releases – a few of the big ones, and several smaller yet intriguing entries. (I think telling you which I’ve missed and/or which I’ve dismissed would be cheating; or at the very least, no fun.) My frequent bouts of absenteeism this time around weren’t because of any (okay, more-than-usual) bouts of laziness or writer’s malaise, but rather due to working on my first book, A CUT BELOW: A CELEBRATION OF B HORROR MOVIES, 1950s - 1980s, coming this year from McFarland Publishing! Twelve film festivals (with titles such as The Blood on Satan’s B-Roll, Those Darn Kids!, and Back Bacon Bloodbath) each housing essays on five films with a common theme. I can hardly wait to share it with the world. End of plug!
First off, I should state that I’m only going to discuss films this year; I’ve seen even less TV than I’d like to admit (the good stuff I mean, not just in general) and can only cop to seeing Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities omnibus on Netflix. It’s great, and you should check it out! There’s your TV section.
Skipping a book section as well; and this one you should boo me for… can’t write no more better without reading no more better neither, either. But, I loaded up on Clay Mcleod Chapman (Ghost Eaters), Brian Asman (Man, Fuck This House), and Adam Cesare (Clown In A Cornfield) at Christmas, so 2023 will be filled with terrifying words spilling from the page.
But for now, let’s talk about movies. In no particular order because these films are all, as my sweet Nana Drebit used to say, “the tits.”
A WOUNDED FAWN: It’s all Greek to me, and I love it. Travis Stevens’ third film brings the fury, or more specifically the Furies. When a serial killer/art dealer (Scare Me’s Josh Ruben) meets his match (Jakob’s Wife’s Sarah Lind) and a skillet upside his head, the tableturn offers psychedelic imagery swimming in tones of Argento, as retribution on behalf of all womankind is dealt in Greek justice, violently so. The performances are as sharp as the script by Stevens and Nathan Faudree, and in turn Stevens offers his best directorial effort to date. Very weird, darkly funny, and completely unforgettable.
X: Sex sells, horror’s buying, and Ti West is gleefully picking up the tab in this ‘70s throwback of chainsaws, psycho biddies, and a surprisingly compassionate center. A small porno film crew rents the back house on a farm owned by an elderly couple; when the owners – especially the matron, Pearl (Mia Goth in a dual role) – find out what they're up to in that there love shack, they put an end to the makeshift fuck factory, and how. X sells, and as it turns out, everyone bought; West and Goth already had a prequel (Pearl) in the can when X was released – also released last year – and will be dropping a middle section, MaXXXine, sooner rather than later. As I’ve only seen X, I can’t comment on an overlaying arc other than what it presents: a broken down, elderly woman with a disturbing past and a sad present. Who also happens to be a vicious, deranged killer. This is my favorite Ti West film to date because it sustains its premise, it moves, it’s very engaging, and the ‘70s trappings are pure catnip for an old school horror hound.
DEADSTREAM: The hustle is real in the horror world; ask anyone trying to get a podcast off the ground, or a book, or a movie, or… hey, it’s all hard. Just ask Shawn Ruddy (co-writer/co-director Joseph Winter), out of internet jail after making a big faux pas on his channel, looking to get his viewership back by spending a night in a supposedly haunted house by himself. Things go quite poorly for Shawn; the house is haunted, and the things trying to kill him are in fact, real. All of this unfolds live on his stream, with comments from his followers as the night plays out. All of Deadstream works; the conceit is simple, yet brilliantly executed by Winter and his co-writer/co-director/co-spouse Vanessa Winter – put him through the paces ala Bruce Campbell in the Evil Dead movies and call it a day. But the “live” found footage trope with the kicker of spectators commenting like a Greek chorus works beautifully, when a less measured, more frantic take would probably be the norm. But The Winters not only have the talent to navigate these waters, they have the good humor to make it a fun – and very, very funny – spookride. And it’s a ride to be enjoyed again and again.
GLORIOUS: An existential shitter stop certainly wasn’t on my Bingo card for the films of ‘22, but Rebekah McKendry’s Glorious showed up and made itself known in a splashy – and grossly splashed, squashed, and sloshed – fashion. Wes (Ryan Kwanten) pulls into a roadside rest stop, and after a night getting plastered, starts to have a conversation the next morning with an interdimensional being named Ghat (voiced by none other than J.K. Simmons) through a gloryhole. This is the premise, and McKendry has created a chamber piece with feces-covered walls and a wisely roaming camera. Despite the limiting set, they manage to keep Glorious moving with funny dialog and surprising turns; writers Todd Rigney, Joshua Hull, and David Ian McKendry believe that enlightenment and bullshit can – and should be – discussed as one big log that refuses to flush. Glorious just wants you to play around in the sewer water with it for 79 minutes; who knows? You just may end up saving the world.
NOPE: Jordan Peele is back with Round Three, and he’ll stop being on these lists when he makes a film that doesn’t merit it. Nope is not that film; in fact, it may be my favorite of his films to date; at once huge and intimate, it has things to say about entertainment, how we consume it, and how it can consume us. (No pun intended.) Peele decides to take on the Granddaddy of Summer Blockbusters, Jaws, and show audiences that a story template is nothing without imagination to breathe life into it. Nope has imagination to spare and the smarts to get there. Oh, and Keke Palmer is her own force of nature.
V/H/S/99: This is the real surprise of the bunch. I’ve always been wishy-washy with the V/H/S series; uneven tones, entries, and wraparounds left me feeling left out from what is clearly a very popular series. Until now, that is. V/H/S/99 is the most consistent entry for me, from top to bottom. In some kind of miracle, I enjoy every segment (but one); none more so than Joseph and Vanessa Winter’s To Hell and Back, proving in the same year as their Deadstream that talent and ingenuity will always win out. What can I say? It’s a good anthology film; more importantly for me, it hangs together as one.
SCREAM: Aka Scream 5, aka the One Without Wes. When this film was announced, without the man who helmed all previous entries – the late and legendary Wes Craven – the reaction from some was outrage (angry social media posts); for others, sadness (angry social media posts). Directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett – part of the filmmaking collective known as Radio Silence – previously helmed Ready or Not, a humorous horror vibrating with energy. Scream does too, and I’m glad; five deep in a series, new energy is essential to success. Writers James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick don’t stray too far from the formula, making room for the return of Sidney, Gale, and Dewey, plus a host of new faces, including new horror sensation Jenny Ortega. It all works: the kills are vicious, the action swift, and our legacy characters are balanced decently with the new ones; the film has a real pass-the-torch feel without explicitly saying it. With almost everyone returning (insert sad face here), I look forward to the next brutal installment – this time in the big city! I wonder if they’re getting there by boat?
HALLOWEEN’S END: If you know me, or have heard me blather on – I really like what David Gordon Green accomplished with the Halloween franchise; namely, pissing off a whole whack of people for whom Michael Myers is some sacred saint who must be handled a certain way. Halloween (2018) in relation to its sequels, plays it relatively straight; the sequel, Halloween Kills (2021), is as advertised, a full-on Myers melee with enough deaths for a thousand slashers. The finale is different. It’s a few years later, and Michael has not been found; we find out, however, that he’s been hanging out in the sewer below the town, weak and near death. When a psychotically broken young man finds him, he discovers that Myers is more than just a man, and assists him in regaining his power to destroy the town. But Laurie has other plans…
I’ve really seen people foam at the mouth over this film, and to them I say: lighten up, Francis. A Halloween fan should be used to wild takes and kooky chronology; it’s part of the landscape. Halloween Ends gives genuine closure to Laurie – and gives her a lot more to do in this one. Green’s Halloween films, which vacillate between corny, brutal, stylish, cheesy, funny, and just plain mean, are at least of a piece; a particular vision. It may not align with yours, but it suits me just fine.
TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE: Woo doggy, here’s another one that people lost their everlivin’ shit over. Our pal Leatherface takes the Halloween “legacy” approach; he ain’t been heard none from in 48 years, but retired Texas Ranger Sally Hardesty has never given up looking for him. So off we go to Bulgaria, I mean small town Texas, where two young entrepreneurs buy up a deserted town to gentrify it, and bring in a busload of influencers to get the word out. Add in a younger sister who survived a school shooting and you’re good to go. How often does one discuss the plot in a TCM film? This is a lineage so inbred I wouldn’t be surprised if Sally and Leatherface are related. (Just kidding! Put down the pitchforks!) My point is, going the legacy route cuts out all the flim flam and leaves you with Sally, Leatherface, and a couple newcomers who may or may not like the way the film ends for them. But people complained because Sally doesn’t really come until the third act, and with Marilyn Burns leaving us in 2014, the character almost has zero resonance. That’s okay; Leatherface has enough for everyone.
I simply love this thing even though it’s super messy – most of the seams show on a troubled production – because a) director David Blue Garcia shows some serious chops, creating a mood from a crafted town and making it work, b) the practical effects are great, and bountiful, and c) the first TCM to have an actual massacre. With a final shot involving a Tesla and bad PR, Texas Chainsaw Massacre may not be tight, but the individual pieces hang together like a nice, warm, facemask.
Well, that’s it for me! Any complaints, you know where to send them: Bryan Christopher, care of Daily Dead. Have a great year, everyone.