The Rotten Truth: Mid-Year Horror Report Card

ON

Looking at the best and worst films…so far

Maybe 2011 isn’t turning out so strange after all. Diverse, perhaps. But not the barren wasteland I anticipated it to be. Thanks to a thriving video-on-demand market, and that bastion of the genre known as home video, there has been a wealth of horror fare placed on the table for consumption.

Magnet Releasing and IFC Films, for instance, are steadily populating the landscape with fresh acquisitions from all over the world, offering viewers alternatives to the wide-release studio pictures you can find in the theater. For every Red Riding Hood or The Roommate, these smaller distributors would counter with Rubber or Dream Home. And now that we’re about halfway through the year, I thought now would be a good time to reflect on some of the noteworthy films I’ve seen – but haven’t reviewed here at Shock – that you might have missed and weigh in on the worst of the year so far. A mid-year report card, of sorts, and a preview to my best-of list that will, no doubt, be written at the end of December.

Under the category of “slow burn,” Chris Smith’s Black Death is hands-down one of my favorites of the year. Grade A all of the way. I’ve often described it as “Witchfinder General Year Zero” meets elements of The Wicker Man with The Magnificent Seven. Smith, once again, switches genre gears and invokes a muscular, mature period piece that explores faith, mystery and revenge. At times rousing, at times heartbreaking, the film features terrific performances from a memorable cast of characters. Smith’s future is bright.

Dream Home deserves an A, not simply because the kills are vicious and executed by someone who knows what they’re doing behind the camera (in this case, director Pang Ho-Cheung), but because, surprisingly, this film has a lot of heart. A sick, pulsing heart coursing with a venomous black muck, but heart nonetheless. Bouncing between the past and present, the film follows a woman struggling to get the waterfront apartment she wants in a tough economy. A clever and positively wicked tale that’s equal parts slasher film and poignant drama.

Those are the top two I’ve consistently recommended this year. Below, I’ve selected other titles and given them a grade, mixing both the good and the bad.

• Insidious: Nothing groundbreaking, but James Wan and Leigh Whannell lay on the old school atmosphere and scares that I think they were trying to achieve with Dead Silence, but ultimately failed at. There are some truly unnerving moments here. Suffice it to say, they don’t make ‘em like this anymore. A

• Detention: There is no other film I reflect on more with a grin than this manic, pop culture kaleidoscope. Joseph Kahn’s latest feature effort vigorously dry humps your peepers with a barrage of visual FX, film and music references, succeeding at reflecting today’s generation of teenager where Scream 4 did “just okay.” Oh, and did I mention it’s a slasher, time travel, alien invasion and creature feature tale with a bucket-load of John Hughes-like teen comedy/angst thrown in? Detention exhausted me. You’ll either love it or hate it. A-

• The Bleeding: Never let your meathead gym spotter star in your movie. Ever. F

• Bitter Feast: Every time I make eggs over easy, I think of Joe Maggio’s “foodie horror” film now. Don’t let those yolks run, you’ll be beaten to a pulp! More effective than I thought it was going to be, Bitter Feast is a cut above most torture fare. Pitting a food blogger against a recently-fired TV chef, it’s a simmering commentary on public criticism, although I don’t think Maggio’s denouement compliments the film’s themes. B

• The Resident: Hammer Films produces their first Lifetime film for women. Not really, but that’s how this thriller plays out. There are a few nasty moments, but these are not enough to make Resident memorable. Guillermo (Pan’s Labyrinth) Navarro’s photography is beautiful, as usual. D

• Bonnie and Clyde Versus Dracula: Don’t give the film this title then cast your wife as an unnecessary character – who isn’t Bonnie, Clyde or Dracula – and give her all of the screen time. A stupid and annoying film that doesn’t deliver on its moniker. F

• Kidnapped: Mean-spirited and brutal, just the way a home invasion film should be. Miguel Angel Vivas’ film is going to frustrate you, anger you, make you feel hopeless. This isn’t a fun experience. Yet, it’s an exercise in storytelling precision, from the way Vivas masterfully moves his camera down to the editing. Worth checking out if you can endure an hour of suffering and an ending that will destroy you. B+

• Chawz: South Korea’s answer to Razorback and Jaws packs a lot of laughs (unexpected) and minutes (it’s two hours!), however, it doesn’t do anything we haven’t seen before in other nature-run-amok entertainment. C+

• The Last Lovecraft: Relic of Cthulhu: I hated this film so much. To me, it’s the inside-out baboon from The Fly. It serves no purpose and deserves to die. Failing at every turn to measure up to Shaun of the Dead (hell, even Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer), the jokes are dead on arrival, the special effects are awful and the cast is irritating. F

• Stake Land: The idea is there. The execution is not. It’s a bit long in the tooth and a bit more life could have been injected into the characters and pacing. I give Jim Mickle points for tackling a project on this scale, but for once I’d like to see a “we fight vampires” story where no one really knows how to fight vampires. B-

• The Violent Kind: The Sons of Anarchy meets The Evil Dead in an incredibly bizarre film from the Butcher brothers who redeem themselves after that April Fool’s Day remake. Their latest might have been strange for the sake of being strange, but I rolled with the punches. The Butchers could have probably cast a tougher bunch of bikers, though, since these guys looked like they were pulled from the coffee shops of Silverlake and dirtied up. C+ (but I’m comfortable with a B-)

• The Silent House: A one-take horror story that made me jump twice, and I don’t jump much during films these days. A decidedly unhurried journey of a young girl in a spooky house. If you stick with it, the rewards are haunting. B

And here’s a quickie rundown, minus my commentary…

Vanishing on 7th Street C-

The Loved Ones C

Husk B-

Wrecked B-

Dylan Dog: Dead of Night D

Grave Encounters C-

All About Evil B-

Saint B+

Forget Me Not C

I’d love to hear what you think of this year in horror so far. Any favorites? Any titles you not recommending? Use our comment board below to discuss!

Source: Ryan Turek, Managing Editor