I initially felt iffy about including Idiocracy on this list, but the more I thought about it critically, and as a work of science fiction, the more I felt it appropriate. Still, I’m only listing it as the runner-up. Created by Mike Judge of many other comedic successes, this time travel flick about a bleak and stupid future humanity is raved about by its fans for its comedic aspects. Yet it has been rarely looked at for its cynical critique on culture and the uneducated. It’s extremely funny, and frighteningly intelligent. The film suffers from a butchered ending, but when a film so blatantly calls America a bunch of idiots and is owned by Fox, you know something is going to have to go wrong. Its theatrical release was crushed by the studio, but the film has gained a pretty big cult following on DVD.
It was a decade of remakes. All the horror classics seem to be getting a turn, and all the horror fans are displeased. The new Texas Chainsaw Massacre was lackluster, as was Friday the 13th. In the wake of his success with High Tension, Alexandre Aja was employed to remake a classic from the period he wanted to honor with his films, Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes. Many just dismissed it as another remake, but in my opinion, this was not only the best of the bunch, but a hard-hitting, brutal, well-made horror film. It’s got an agenda for sure, about guns and politics, but don’t act like Craven’s early films didn’t. And even if you don’t agree with it, the overly masculine war-driven rage at the heart of this picture is so fun and shocking. That is, if you think a screaming, blood soaked family being stalked by horrifying mutants is fun. Did I mention this film is brutal?
May is an ultra low budget, feminine horror film about a social misfit girl who only wants to meet a boy. Angela Bettis plays the title character, and she is just freakish enough to keep the audience intrigued and disturbed by May. It is a subtle article of cinema, somewhat of a supernatural equivalent to Sling Blade. Director Lucky Mckee hasn’t been able to reach the quality of this film again in his career, and hopefully one day he will. If not, May will be his one masterpiece.
Another entry in the slew of 00s remakes, the real horror in this one isn’t the rats; it’s Crispin Glover. And I’m not sure he’s acting, Glover just is the title character. Willard is a squealing sociopath man-child whose equally crazy mother has sheltered him his whole life. He makes friends with rats, goes even crazier, and uses them to take revenge on everyone who has mistreated him. The film is dark, creepy and textured, everyone and everything is weird, especially Glover. Glover makes this film what it is, and if you’re a fan of the guy, you’ll find it to be a delightfully bizarre viewing experience.
It was a decade of Korean New Wave cinema, and Chan-wook Park got most of the attention. Jun-hwan’s first and only film, Save the Green Planet, is some sort of delicious sci-fi-horror-fantasy blend that hasn’t gotten the acknowledgement it deserves. A bee-keeper and his acrobat girlfriend kidnap his former boss, who they believe to be an alien, and torture him using methods he has developed to fight off the alien scum. It is scary and gruesome at times, hilarious and fantastic at others. The really remarkable thing about this film is the critique on violence and human nature. Highly intelligent, highly absurd, very worth watching.
Although The Abandoned did win the first round of the After Dark Horror Fest, I don’t believe that was enough to give this film the momentum it deserved. Spanish director Nacho Cerda is well on his way to proving himself as one of the most intelligent directors working with horror themes nowadays. The Abandoned is about a woman in Russia haunted by the past so vividly; her own doppelganger is following her around the woods. It is an eerie, beautifully shot film, where the subtext is just as important as the context.
Not only is this a horror film about art students, it’s one of the most accurate depictions of the worst kind of art students in cinema. It’s true: some of them really are that crazy. And the filmmakers knew this because they were students, making this film guerilla style, in Brooklyn, on their free time, with whatever money they could scrape together. Murder Party is about a lonely guy on Halloween who finds an invitation to the Murder Party on the ground, and decides to go. This turns out to be a bad idea, as the hosts are a collective of artists who intend to murder him as an art project. Most of the film occurs in the warehouse chosen as the venue for the party, and most of the action and comedy is derived from the conflicts between the artists. It’s a very neat, funny little film.
So one of the guys who made The Blair Witch, Eduardo Sanchez, went on to make a straightforward narrative about these really terrifying aliens in the woods and not to many people saw it. Yet, it’s a suspenseful, well-crafted, claustrophobic sci-fi thriller that, unlike The Blair Witch, had a shot list and a tripod. Special effects junkies will be especially pleased, the bulk of the effects are all practical, including the alien. And this alien is nasty looking. The story is intriguing, and the character development is extremely effective. It might get a little cheesy towards the end, but the buildup of this film had me plastered against the back of my chair in terror.
Have you ever heard of this movie? No? That’s because it never got distribution. Corey Feldman stars as Norman Forrester, who is attending the birthday party of his girlfriend’s father, set in this ancient hotel. What I’ve described just now seems perfectly normal, but it’s the most awkward, strange group of people imaginable, and about halfway into the film, Norman begins to realize something is awry in the hotel. And this something is supernatural. I can’t recommend this somewhat indescribable film to everyone, it’s too weird, and paced bizarrely, mimicking the real-time experiences of Feldman’s character. I guess it’s for genre fans that enjoy the work of David Lynch. If you enjoy the oddities, which include Corey Feldman, it’s a great film.
2) 13 Beloved (2006)
Welcome to Thailand. A man who is down on his luck wins a lottery he never entered, and is given the opportunity via cell phone to complete simple challenges, like killing a fly with a newspaper. The arena is all of Bangkok, and no one can know he is playing a game. If he beats all 13 challenges, he’ll receive enough money to settle all of his financial woes. But the challenges are getting worse, and who is running this game? I love this film. I think it’s an exciting and refreshing approach to an idea that’s been toyed with in other horror and suspense films. It keeps its sense of humor, even when it divulges into the gory, the upsetting, and the gross-out.
Overlooked isn’t a really fair term for S&MAN. Fair would be unseen, as after appearing around the festival circuit, S&MAN lost its distribution, and nearly vanished off the face of the earth. S&MAN is a documentary about the underground horror scene that examines voyeurism, fake snuff, the hunt for harder, more realistic gore, and the audience that it appeals to. Taking place mainly around the convention scene in New Jersey, the film features interviews with low budget filmmakers like Fred Vogel of Toe Tag Pictures, and the, uh, very hilarious Bill Zebub. This is a documentary that will get in your head. I don’t want to say anything else about this film. I don’t want you to read anything about it at all. I want you to see it, knowing nothing, and experience it with a completely open mind. Horror geeks: I implore you to hunt down a bootleg of this one.
– Madeleine Koestner