We here at the Alamo Drafthouse watch a lot of movies. Over the next few weeks, we're going to be spotlighting some of our favorite things about 2011 in film. Robert Saucedo, programer and host of the Graveyard Shift, shares his favorite horror movies from 2011. Speaking of the Graveyard Shift, tickets are now on sale for January's screening of POLTERGEIST.
With too many remakes featuring an overabundance of lame CGI, last year may have seemed like a bad year for horror and — for the most part — it was. Finding ten really good horror films, though, was a really easy task as even though America may be slacking off when it comes to scary movies, the world is full of talented filmmakers just waiting to scare the heck out of audiences.
First, here are five runners-up that, while not in my top ten, are worth checking out: Black Death, Pastorela, Phase 7, The Skin I Live In, Tucker and Dale vs Evil.
When it comes to films about evil telepathic tires, RUBBER pretty much takes the cake. RUBBER features the story of Robert, a tire that rolls around the desert blowing animals up with his mind. Quentin Dupieux's tribute to the absurd is 82 minutes of unexplained weirdness wrapped up in a crunchy taco shell. The film is off-the-charts strange but that's its whole appeal. As Stephen Spinella's character Lieutenant Chad explains in his incredible opening monologue, every movie has a question left unanswered. RUBBER is a movie that has nothing but unanswered questions and the result is one of the most entertaining films of the year.
9) MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE
MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE may not seem like a horror movie but during the entire film, I felt as if I had a 30 pound stone in my stomach. Writer/director Sean Durkin knows how to build tension and his movie, starring Elizabeth Olsen, explores the unavoidable fate that befalls a young woman who escapes from a cult. This movie is ten gallons of dread poured into a sippy cup. The contents leak out the side and, as a result, the audience is left covered in cold sweat as the movie crawls towards its final, discussion-prompting scene.
Found footage films have become frustratingly pedestrian. While once the sub-genre provided filmmakers a way to blow the doors of convention, now it seems like the format is just a crutch to give lazy filmmakers a way to spice up their otherwise boring movie. TROLLHUNTER is not one of those found footage films. André Øvredal's Norwegian film is about a group of documentary filmmakers who follow a man whose job it is to keep Norway's troll population in check. Amazing special effects and likable characters help elevate this film from the murky depths of the found footage sub-genre.
As somebody who loves and has read Stephen King's "The Stand" more times than I care to admit, CONTAGION scared me more than most other films this year. Steven Soderbergh's film is essentially the first half of King's fantasy epic and deals with the threat of a viral outbreak with a frighteningly realistic bent. This is a horror movie on the precipice of truth and it's that fact that makes the film much more scarier than any monster movie. Don't watch this film before dinner.
Miguel Ángel Vivas' film is not an entertaining movie. KIDNAPPED is brutal, angry and intent on ruining your otherwise perfectly happy day. It takes a very focused look at a home invasion — relaying the film's events in as close to real time as possible and featuring a format made almost exclusively with one-take shots (the film is 85 minutes long and features only about a dozen shots!). KIDNAPPED is the type of horror movie you watch to shake free from the gentle lull of your everyday life and remind yourself that the world could be a lot worse. KIDNAPPED is the film equivalent of a stun gun to the groin.
5) ATTACK THE BLOCK
In stark contrast to KIDNAPPED's blatant lack of entertainment-value, Joe Cornish's film is one of the most smile-enducing experiences you'll have with a monster movie this year. When aliens invade a South London ghetto, it's up to a group of thugs to eradicate the extraterrestrials. As Cornish described the film during his introduction at South by Southwest, it's SUPER 8 MILE. From a pulsing soundtrack to engaging performances by a young cast to killer creature effects, ATTACK THE BLOCK is flat out the most entertaining horror movie to be released this year.
It's funny how a film changes the more you watch it. When I first saw UNDOCUMENTED at Fantastic Fest in 2010, my memory of the film was a long series of cringes, gasps, groans and covered eyes. The film, about a documentary crew who are kidnapped by a gang of borderland militants keen on having somebody chronicle their abuse of illegal immigrants, is full of anger, violence and bloodshed. Or is it? When we screened the film as part of the Graveyard Shift series earlier this year, I watched it three times over the course of three nights. The more I watched the film, the more impressed I was. The film is surprisingly restrained in its violence, sharp in its wit and potent in its message. It's also still full of all those cringes, gasps and groans but — more so than HUMAN CENTIPEDE 2 (another film that frequently shocked the hell out of me) — its message is more clearly enunciated.
3) TAKE SHELTER
Besides viral outbreaks and satanic possession, the one thing that scares me the most is the fear of loosing my sanity. Jeff Nichols' exploration of the subject in TAKE SHELTER is so thick and potent that the film, despite its slow pace, produces more gooseflesh per minute than just about any other film this year. Michael Shannon is marvelous in the film as Curtis, a good ol' boy who begins to question his sense of reality when he starts having intense waking nightmares about a coming storm. Drawn to build a storm shelter — despite the financial and emotional burden it puts on his family, Curtis is forced to confront the fact he may be going insane. This is the closest thing we've gotten to a Rod Serling "Twilight Zone" script in a long time and, as a lifelong fan of "The Twilight Zone," I fell in love with this movie something fierce.
2) I SAW THE DEVIL
Jee-woon Kim's tale of revenge is near perfect. When a secret agent's wife is killed, he embarks on a revenge scheme that forever damns his soul. High in action, rough in its violence and with Byung-hun Lee and Min-sik Choi leading the cast, I SAW THE DEVIL is what a fever-riddled mind might imagine a SAW movie would be like if directed by Alfred Hitchcock. There's little more to say about this film besides a desperate plea on my part for you to watch this movie as soon as possible.
1) WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN
If you have just had a kid or are about to have a kid, please do not see this movie. Everybody else, though, has no excuse. WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN is a powerful piece of filmmaking from Lynne Ramsay about a woman (Tilda Swinton) whose son is beyond evil. Swinton's character is a mother who has always had a rough relationship with her boy. While most mothers and sons' relationships improve with time, young Kevin is a psychopathic demon in skinny jeans who delights in making his mother's life a living hell. This is the type of mainstream horror movie that crosses borders and appeals to mainstream crowds. I'd like to plant a flag, though. No matter how many awards WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN receives and how many accolades Swinton racks up, this is a horror movie through and through and nobody can take that away from us genre-loving movie fans.