Any regular readers of Sound On Sight, or listeners of our Sordid Cinema podcast, should know that I am a huge fan of horror films. I recently published a 75 000 + word article counting down the 100 greatest horror films ever made – and every year, I whip a list of the best horror films released. This year, the terror is accompanied by demonic possession, cannibalistic rituals, low-budget zom-coms, Tarantino’s favourite film, and the dark side of Disney.
Note: I’ve included three special mentions – all of which could be labeled horror, but I felt work best as thrillers instead. Enjoy!
Special Mention: Stoker
Directed by Chan-wook Park
Written by Wentworth Miller
Chan-wook Park’s Stoker is a Gothic fairy tale, a family drama, and a beautifully twisted, pitch-black coming-of-age story, all at once. This slow-burning psychological thriller isn’t afraid to cross into uncomfortable places, often edging close to taboo territory. Park wants his audience to twitch in their seats and the master director is able to accomplish this with the greatest of ease. Along with first-time screenwriter Wentworth Miller, Park weaves a coming-of-age tale through a tangled, murderous family plot, with sexual subtext and upper-class entitlement. People disappear, a landscape of family secrets are revealed, and Park teases the audience into anticipating the worst.
15. The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh
Written and directed by Rodrigo Gudiño
Written and directed by Rue Morgue magazine publisher Rodrigo Gudiño, this subtle horror film centers on Leon (Aaron Poole), a young man who inherits a house from his estranged mother, only to discover that she had been living in a shrine devoted to a mysterious cult. As the film unravels, we learn everything there is to know about Leon and his mother through a voice-over-narrative delivered by Vanessa Redgrave. Debut director Gudiño chooses to eschew the tropes of the modern haunted house film in favour of a ghost story that rests in psychological spaces. The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh is a story buried in grief and despair. Here, the hauntings appear to be as much in the protagonist’s head as any outward manifestations – led by a one-man show in Poole. As with The Haunting or The Shining, the house is the secret star overflowing with paintings, furniture, statues, antiques and dark secrets in every corner of every room. Truthfully, The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh would have made a better short; there’s only about 20 minutes of story here, and the first 30 minutes consist of Poole wandering around the house. But there’s something to be said about a movie that inserts a twist ending and makes you re-evaluate everything that came before, without feeling like a cheat. The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh is a fine mood piece, and a great experimentation in indie horror.
14. Escape from Tomorrow
Written and directed by Randy Moore
Randy Moore’s Escape From Tomorrow caused quite a stir when it premiered at Sundance earlier this year. To shoot his film, set in Walt Disney World, Moore purchased a season pass to the park (as well as Disneyland) and secretly filmed his actors without the park’s knowledge. Many suspected that it would never get an official release, but after several months of controversy and possible lawsuits, the film was released in theatres and on VOD on October 11. Tomorrow is a half-successful exercise in low-budget surrealism and anti-corporate satire, but its one saving grace is its score. The string-heavy score by the brilliant young Polish composer Abel Korzeniowski (who scored Tom Ford’s A Single Man) is magnificent, hearkening back to the spirit of ’50s Hollywood – and the sound design is equally unsettling, sampling some of the best film composers, including Bernard Herrmann and Zbigniew Preisner. While the pic takes too long to get going, the final 25 minutes featuring Jim, a captive in a Siemens company lab underneath Spaceship Earth, is enough to get by. Also worthy of note: We recently named the poster and trailer among the best of 2013.
13. Here Comes the Devil
Written and directed by Adrián García Bogliano
Argentinian filmmaker Adrián García Bogliano returns with Here Comes the Devil, a coming-of-age tale of demonic possession, sexual awakening, and suspected child abuse. Staying clear of the typical traps of exploitation, Bogliano takes a low-key, less graphic approach to the unearthly proceedings. This isn’t your standard possession film. That’s not to say there aren’t displays of the supernatural, but those hoping for frightening exorcisms may be disappointed, although you will get scenes of levitation, albeit low-cost effects.
Here Comes the Devil has an admittedly great premise and the haunting mystery and buried sexual hysteria is its selling point. Bogliano treats the sexuality of his characters with an honest reality, striking a perfect balance between family drama and domestic horror. Set in Tijuana – home to superstition and stories about el diablo – a young couple and their son and daughter stop at a roadside gas station across from desolate hills and mysterious caves. Despite warning, the children set out to explore the forbidden grounds, said to be harbouring dark secrets, and get lost in their newfound playground. The following day, they return to their distraught parents, and while physically unharmed, something just doesn’t quite seem the same.
Here Comes the Devil manages to be a haunting meditation on fear, sex, death and the beyond. Ambiguity is often good and Devil leaves us with many unanswered questions. Amidst the confusion and unsettling atmosphere, the result is a discreetly artistic genre pic.
12. Evil Dead
Directed by Fede Alvarez
Written by Rodo Sayagues and Fede Alvarez
First-time feature director Fede Alvarez’s blood-soaked reprise of Sam Raimi’s shocker, The Evil Dead, boasts far better production values than the shoestring 1981 flick, and the nonstop action should please younger genre fans who’ve never seen the original. Unfortunately, everyone else should be a little disappointed. Alvarez’s tone is completely different, as the helmer rarely attempts to emulate the genuine terror that distinguished the original from so many other video nasties of the 1980s – which is why Evil Dead isn’t ranked any higher on this list. Blood-drenched barely begins to describe Alvarez’s remake; this isn’t just a horror movie with gore – it’s all gore – noteworthy only because it may be the most blood-soaked motion picture since Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive. Blood is its raison d’etre, but everything else – particularly the sense of dread – is relegated to the background.
The presence of Raimi and star Bruce Campbell as producers should give fans of the original enough reason to watch what would otherwise seem like a shameless exploitation of beloved film. Thankfully, Evil Dead does offer some improvements, particularly in the screenplay. While the original had a conventional slasher-flick set-up, this one offers more justification for the remote setting and the characters’ reluctance to leave when strange things start happening. In addition, the film’s special effects are created mostly with old-fashioned prosthetics and buckets of blood – and in homage to Raimi, the shaky-cam makes an appearance. Taking his cue from the original, Alvarez makes great use of cinematographer Aaron Morton’s swooping camera movements, which suggest the POV of a demon stalking its prey. It has the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis, the Delta ’88 Oldsmobile, mutilation, decapitation, dismemberment, tree rape, and yes, there’s a chainsaw. But Evil Dead isn’t Evil Dead without Raimi behind the camera, and Bruce Campbell in front. For that, we can always revisit the original.
11. Big Bad Wolves
Written and directed by Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado
This brutal, unrelenting Israeli thriller from the filmmaking team behind 2010’s Rabies walks a fine line between nail-biting tension and the blackest of comedy. When a religious studies teacher is suspected of molesting and murdering young girls, he finds himself kidnapped by a victim’s father and a hard-nosed detective armed with a torturous array of household weapons. Its premise echoes the recent Prisoners, as Big Bad Wolves slips between three genres of film – noir, mystery thriller, and torture-laced horror – depending on the viewpoints of the men at center stage. But despite the level of violence and bloodshed, the filmmakers are more concerned with illustrating the relationship between father and son, specifically in an Israeli context. The men here have all served in the military and thought to use torture as a way to extrapolate information. Underpinning the nail-pulling, hammer-to-the-knee tension is a dark metaphor for vengeance – but Keshales and Papushado skillfully embed a sick sense of humour and steer clear of glorifying torture. We are never sure of the final outcome until the very end, but we’re confident, nobody will come out a winner.
– Ricky D