Despite a remarkable volume of cliched, unmemorable or otherwise awful offerings, 2013 was actually a fairly solid year for horror – especially if your tastes veer off the beaten path. While most mainstream fare ranged from passable (Evil Dead) to abominable (Texas Chainsaw 3D), alternative fare flourished, not merely offering some great, unique entertainment but introducing or establishing talent that promises to become the genre’s next great generation of creators.
While few of the films included on the list ultimately made my overall Top Ten list for the year – good as they were, competition from other films was enviably steep in 2013 – those I chose stood out or distinguished themselves, in full or in part, for offering something original, interesting, or even just particularly effective. Meanwhile, a handful of other experiences or multi-media releases enhanced my appreciation for horror in the last 12 months, which if nothing else will give fans something to investigate or think about in the next 12.
As such, in alphabetical order, here’s my list of favorite horror-related forms of entertainment in 2013:
ABCs of Death “O For Orgasm”
Perhaps a dubious start for a list of transcendent moments, but even if the vast majority of the entries in this ambitious anthology fail to meet expectations, Bruno Forzani and Héléne Cattet’s imagistic odyssey through la petit mort ranks among the most compelling filmmaking of the year. The duo, who previously helmed Amer and has The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears coming in 2014, aggressively – and expertly – evoke the aesthetic of their ‘60s and ‘70s forebears, combining sumptuous close-ups of one woman’s pleasure with a suitably throbbing drumbeat to create one of the most vivid and deeply enviable erotic experiences audiences have seen in a while.
James Wan bid adieu to horror with not one but two swan songs, the first of which was a gloriously scary, compelling, and remarkably classy effort that evidenced his maturity and sophistication as a director. Other than accomplishing the significant feat of making audiences actually care about the characters, Wan created some of the most genuinely terrifying imagery this horror fan has ever seen – well, technically, glimpsed through my fingers. In fact, the film is so scary to me that I refused to watch it a second time when offered the chance, primarily because I didn’t want to go through another two or three nights of sleepless paranoia over what moved in the corner of my bedroom.
Death Waltz Records
Although Waxwork Records and Mondo have done a spectacular job expanding the musical libraries of horror fans, no label has single-handedly rekindled interest in vinyl soundtracks more effectively than Death Waltz. Run by Spencer Hickman, whose impeccable taste helped secure re-releases of some of the most beloved and accomplished soundtracks recorded for genre films, the label has thus far released gems like Halloween II and III, Zombi 2, the Evil Dead remake, and House By the Cemetery, all of which not only are beautifully mastered, but housed in elaborate, beautifully-designed packaging. With even more great releases planned for 2014, Death Waltz is only accelerating its output, not only expanding the tastes of the label’s customers, but demonstrating there’s a real market for movie music on vinyl.
Although the prospect of a new Goblin release in 2013 from Dealth Waltz would have been more than enough to satisfy this diehard fan of horror soundtracks, even that accomplishment was dwarfed by the opportunity to see the band in person, live, at Los Angeles’ Beyondfest. While I admit I’m still a little sore that the show I saw wasn’t technically the “first” – the festival wisely expanded their performances schedule to three days – watching the quartet of musicians in action from some of the best seats in the house was one of those rare and glorious holy-grail experiences I’ll never forget.
Given their pedigree as writers of films like Night at the Museum and stars on shows like The State and Reno 911, Thomas Lennon and Ben Garant aren’t the guys you might expect to make a horror film. But their Hell Baby is not a typical horror film, if you can even call it horror; following a hapless husband watching his wife go through the final stages of a pregnancy – unaware she’s been possessed by the devil – the movie offers a rarely honest look at how people might react if they encountered supernatural phenomena, albeit filtered through the duo’s impish, imaginative sense of humor. Even if the movie doesn’t scare you at all, it’s a fun alternative to cliched horror movies that end up being funnier than this one, only because they take themselves way too seriously.
Kiss of the Damned
Like The ABCs of Death, Xan Cassavetes’ venture into the horror genre is not entirely successful. But as a welcome and legitimately erotic alternative to the tween superficiality of stuff like Twilight, Kiss of the Damned is a sizable achievement. Josephine de la Baume does a whole lot just by wearing some particularly provocative lingerie as she devours her future mate, but the movie’s elegant, hypnotic score and its dreamy cinematography elevate its atmosphere even when its story is a little bit, well, anemic. Entirely worth it just for the aforementioned seduction sequence, Kiss of the Damned is truly sexy, and if nothing else announces the arrival of a promising and much-needed female filmmaking presence in horror.
Ti West has been one of my favorite horror filmmakers since the first time I saw House of the Devil, the best 1983 horror movie made in 2009. But even after the chilling effectiveness of The Innkeepers, the enormous impact of The Sacrament still came as a surprise, thanks in no small part to the fact that it ultimately feels only incidentally like a horror movie. The story of a team of embedded journalists who encounter a community led by a charismatic and mysterious cult figure, West’s film offers a nuanced and sensitive portrayal of indoctrination, even as it ratchets the suspense incrementally until the payoff becomes a harrowing gauntlet of survival and catharsis. Augmented by a great performance from A.J. Bowen, who successfully makes douchebag journalists sympathetic, West’s latest announces his presence as a filmmaker to watch – most importantly, outside and beyond the horror genre.
Although foreign filmmakers often flop when trying to make the transition to English-language storytelling, Park Chan-Wook delivered a criminally underrated thriller-cum-coming of age story with his Hollywood debut Stoker. The story of a young woman coming into her own as she deals with the death of her father, Park’s film utilizes film language in a beautiful, deft way, highlighting the character’s transformation as she interacts with her mysterious uncle Charlie. A truly gorgeous film that boasts wonderful performances from Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman and Matthew Goode, Park’s film is the sort of film just sophisticated enough to avoid easy categorization, and consequently, slip past people’s radar. Don’t miss this one, though – it’s creepy, elegant and exciting.
V/H/S/2 “Safe Haven”
Beyond being considerably stronger as a whole than its predecessor, the anthology sequel boasted one of the most amazing sequences – as a full-fledged story – in any film in 2013. Timo Tjahjanto and Gareth Huw Evans, the latter of whom made a splash directing The Raid: Redemption, creates an equally visceral but wholly different odyssey with his follow-up, the story of a documentary crew who investigates a fortresslike compound only to find themselves in the midst of a ritual sacrifice – and birth – that threatens to kill them all. Tjahjanto and Evans create such a spectacularly unsettling vibe from the get-go that the tension is ratcheted to almost unbearable levels by the time characters start taking others’ lives, or sometimes their own. But as a short-form showcase of what horror can be – epic, imaginative, bleakly funny – “Safe Haven” is a glorious piece of filmmaking that only whets appetites for more from the duo.
Editor's Note: Check back every day this week to read more 2013 favorites from our other writers.
Our Favorite's of 2013: