Only a few days left and the end of 2013 is in view. This means a number of top 10, best and worst of lists and looking back at the year that was. As a horror fan this happened to be a much better year when it came to spooks and scares. While the past twelve months may not have been monumental in the history of horror it was a very satisfying year. Looking back it seems as though we could learn from what worked and hopefully move forward to a chills and thrills fueled New Years with scares and gore aplenty. What would I love to see either in theatres or on VOD, or anywhere else we can get our fear fix? Let’s take a look at some highlights and see just what sent our pulse pounding when it came to terror in the cinema.
The year began with a rough start thanks to the heavily criticized remake/sequel TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D as well as the pathetic excuse for a spoof A HAUNTED HOUSE. Things weren’t looking much better with the arrival of HANSEL AND GRETAL: WITCH HUNTERS or the disappointingly uninspired MAMA. The latter certainly was a promising idea, but the final product featured a not-so-scary CG villain and failed to live up to a previously produced Guillermo del Toro feature like THE ORPHANAGE. Sure these flicks made money, but they left a little to be desired for horror enthusiasts. Yet for every failure, there seemed to be something special this year when it came to scary movies, including a couple of movies that were far better than they should have been.
To start off let’s talk about remakes. It is damn well clear that they aren’t going anywhere. In fact, they are more of a norm than ever. With that said, if you are going to take a classic (or not-so-classic for that matter) and give it a brand new look, you can examine two of my favorites from this past year. Both EVIL DEAD and MANIAC are good examples of doing a remake right. Each film was able to expand on the original feature and still offer a surprisingly fresh perspective. In fact, in the case of MANIAC, you could even say that it was an improvement thanks to its unique POV narrative with Elijah Wood as the psycho in question. For both of these fine features, the gore was over-the-top yet still effective in creating a compelling piece of cinema. Okay, we did have to suffer through CARRIE late in the year, but at least somebody had the right idea when it came to remakes.
One sub-genre that has been sorely missed for this horror lover is the down and dirty slasher film. Of course, what new can you possibly bring to some bimbo being chased around by a masked psycho? Well, in the case of the very scary and very funny YOU’RE NEXT, take that bimbo and make her an ass-kicking survivalist placed under deadly circumstances. If there is such a thing as a modern day “scream queen” then Sharni Vinson would be it. This lovely Australian born actress made for one of the best “final girls” in the history of horror. This was such a unique take on the character that it took a very old staple and gave it a fresh coat of blood with a whole lot of badassery. She alone put this bloody little flick spades above the lesser THE PURGE – a feature with an interesting premise but little else. Can somebody tell my why audiences flocked to that film and not YOU’RE NEXT?
For anybody looking for a smart and satisfying thriller that wasn’t your typical stalk and slash I bring to you Park Chan-wook’s impressive English-language debut STOKER. With a strong group of actors thanks to Nicole Kidman, Matthew Goode and especially Mia Wasikowski, this deeply disturbed family drama released the end of February was a sinister sort of feature. While not straight-up horror, I was more than appreciative of this stylish mystery that twists and turns reveling in its own dark humor with very adult themes. It goes to show that you can make an intriguing and edgy genre pic that is both startlingly grown-up and perfectly chilling at the same time. Who knew the “Prison Break” guy had it in him? Let’s see what else Wentworth Miller – who wrote the screenplay - has in his head.
While I didn’t find the previously mentioned MAMA all that compelling, I do have to give it some credit along with a couple other films worth remembering. One thing that really shined this year when it came to horror was a strong leading lady. Jessica Chastain sure made for a credible lead as well as the fantastic final girl Vinson. What about the other surprise hit that was heavy on scares and an audience pleaser to boot? THE CONJURING proved that everything old is new again, and made for one of the most effective haunted house movies in years. It didn’t rely on gore, bloodshed or violence, just plain well-choreographed scenes of terror. Yet even that wouldn’t have worked nearly as well without the amazing leads in the form of Vera Farmiga and Lili Taylor.
Maybe it’s the booze talkin’, but was 2013 the year Hollywood got horror right? This past year we saw a couple of impressive remakes that managed to take familiar material and give it new life. We also saw that adult-themed horror can be equally as effective as the youth saturated teen flicks. What about the awesomeness of a great final girl? That was offered in spades. Let’s face it it’s a whole lot more fun to root for somebody we can care about when it comes to the cast and the inclusion of an vulnerable and tough when-necessary leading lady. This was certainly a big part of most of the films mentioned above creative – and sometimes even financial – success. If this year is any indication, perhaps Hollywood is actually getting the right idea when it comes to our little genre.