Best Of the Year(s)


28. Slugs

Slugs sits comfortably in the esteemed pantheon of so-bad-they’re-rather-amazing genre films. It’s nice to induct a new member into that hall of fame.

In a world where there’s simply not enough killer scarecrows, this early ‘90s slasher fills an important gap…and does so with a supporting turn from a pre-Winter’s Bone John Hawks.

26. Intruders

Did it all add up? Maybe not, but that doesn't mean I didn't enjoy the always great (and yes, handsome) Clive Owen as a dedicated father trying to protect his daughter from a homemade monster.

And the WTF Movie of the Year Award easily goes to this Canadian children’s movie starring Mickey Rooney as a spritely predator who convinces two rich kids, their pet duck, and Cambodian refugee foster brother to abandon their cares by running away (to Cambodia?) on a broken down coal train. A birthday gift fromParacinema (and my Feminine Critique other half)’s Christine, Terror Train is the definitive case for “they don’t make ‘em like they used to, and for the youth of the world, that might be okay.”

One of the more--dare I say it?--DIVISIVE genre films of the year, Xavier Gens (Frontiers) tackles the apocalypse by stranding an apartment full of morally ambiguous New Yorkers in a bomb shelter basement, then steps back to let starvation, sex, and power plays take hold. Yes, it’s not exactly the feel-good film of 2012, but its brutal commitment to capturing desperation is terrifyingly effective.

The definition of ‘so much better than it had to be, Darren Lynn Bousman's reinterpretation of Troma’s favorite holiday casts a steely eyed Rebecca DeMornay as the matriarch of a dangerous brood trying to reclaim its suburban paradise from a troubled young couple and their assortment of party guests. At nearly 2 hours and juggling over a dozen characters, Mother’s Day is perhaps far more ambitious than it should have been (and hampered by an ill-fitting ending), but trying too hard is far from a punishable sin when it comes to horror remakes.

22. Gnaw

If Bert I. Gordon’s Food of the Gods is a rather silly movie about animal gigantism, than its pseudo sequel Gnaw is a rather delightfully silly movie about animal gigantism. What makes it even more fun than its original is the overwhelming sense Gnaw has of the 1980s, from the big haired heroine to multiple montages to its grand guignol finale, a massacre via Rodents Of Unusual Size set at a synchronized swimming competition.

We’ve probably all been guilty of bemoaning the found footage trend in indie horror, yet here I stand with 2.5 such picks on my list. On paper, the Vicious Brothers’ Grave Encounters seems like every other low budget horror film made post-Paranormal Activity. The difference is in the execution, as a grating Ghost Hunters-esque film crew enters a haunted mental hospital with shaky cam and modeled scares a’blazin’, only to quickly be confronted by genuine terror. Both funny and effectively scary, Grave Encounters proves that there’s still plenty of fresh territory to mine in handheld horror.

20. Scalene

Zach Parker’s heartbreaking indie puts a new spin—or rather, triangular viewpoint—on Rashomon, following the different perceptions three characters have regarding an alleged rape. Justified’s Margo Martindale gives a fantastically uncompromising performance as the weary mother of a 26-year-old with brain damage, while Hannah Hall provides a fascinating counterpoint as the good intentioned but severely misguided college student. The pieces don’t add up, and they’re not supposed to. It’s as frustrating as any misunderstanding in life.

Few things please me more than finding than a taut, original little film made by an upcoming filmmaker Matthew Parkhill’s The Caller is that kind of shiny gem, a ghost story/romance/time travel tale about an abused wife trying to make it on her own, only to then became hunted by the spirit (maybe) of her new apartment’s former tenant, a bitter, lonely old woman who seeks to make sure everyone is as miserable as her life was in the 1970s. Also in the mix is nicely compelling romantic subplot, a comforting turn from Luis Guzman, and a cute dog. What’s not to like?

The godfather of cheap genre cinema, Roger Corman apparently had a rare fit of actual motivation with this medieval times set Vincent Price chiller. Bathed in vibrant colors, this morality tale is both gorgeous to look at and pure joy to sit through. Corman was never better.

Scandoulsy titled Don’t Deliver Us From Evil takes its inspiration from the Parker-Hulme case that also gave birth to Peter Jackson’sHeavenly Creatures. Somewhere in France, two upper middle class Catholic schoolgirls fight boredom by worshiping the devil, teasing any heterosexual man with eyeballs, and murdering the beloved housepets of a servant. Not a typical horror film (or even exploitation title, despite its marketing), Don’t Deliver Us From Evil leaves a lasting impression, possibly because it boasts one of the most shocking finales I’ve seen in some time.

This strange little Thai horror film is almost like a modern twist onHausu, with a group of shallow nurses paying for murder via their vices. Hair strangles the beautiful, purses eat the head of the greedy, and a whole lot of grisly wackiness ensues.

2012 marks the year I ‘discovered’ Curtis Harrington, a prolific yet not-that-well-known filmmaker who made some wonderfully challenging films in the 1970s. In The Killing Kind, Anne Sothern and John Savage play a frighteningly off mother-son pair who bring out the worst in one another. Like an American version of Pedro Almovodar, Harrington has an uncanny interest and ability at highlighting middle aged women, a population that never seems to get the film coverage it deserves.

14. Phase IV

If you only have one directorial credit to your name, it might as well be something as strange and memorable as Phase IV. Graphic designer Saul Bass explores the power of hive minds and ant superiority in this smart sci-fi thriller, following a team of scientists investigating new developments in the insect world. With one of the cutest antiheroes in cinema, Phase IV is a truly unique piece of work.

13. REC 3

More akin to The Evil Dead 2 than its straight horror predecessor,REC 3 is less a continuation of the series than a side project. The film takes place at a countryside wedding (happening, we assume, simultaneously with the events of the first film) where a likable and dedicated young couple use chainsaws, decorative armor, and radio technology to battle a horde of the infected. Funny and sweet, REC 3doesn’t come close to being a great horror movie, but it’s one of the best times I had on DVD this year.

The Blair Witch Project’s Eduardo Sanchez goes to a dark, sad place to tell the tale of Molly, a recovering drug addict/working class part-time janitor who might be crazy, might be relapsing, or might be possessed by the kind of demon that preys upon the abused. With a brave and glamorless central performance from Gretchen Lodge,Lovely Molly is far from perfect, but leaves a haunting and devastating impression.

11. Rabies

Israel's first official horror film is a wonderfully original tale, sometimes funny, sometimes scary, but always incredibly fresh. Like a movie that shows up a few spots down on this list, Rabies breathes new life into the idea of a standard slasher, toying with character, time, and tone in a way that's wonderfully new.

10. Deathdream

There are horror films made to scare you and then there are those seemingly designed to hurt your feelings. Bob Clark, who birthed the modern slasher with Black Christmas, patented a nationwide yearly tradition with A Christmas Story, and terrified my inner child with The Karate Dog, made such a film with his 1972 Deathdream (aka Dead of Night), a Monkey’s Paw varietal about an inconsolable mother whose grief brings her son, a private in Vietnam, back from the dead. There are no real bad guys in the story, just a parent who refuses to let go and the young veteran turned homicidal by means he can’t control. It’s a haunting film, one that finds a deeper, far more painful horror to explore than most of its peers

9. Matango

Based on a title that includes the subheading “Attack of the Mushroom People,” one probably expects some light-hearted goofiness from this mid-60s Japanese oddity. Not so the case, and that’s surprisingly a good thing. Matango is an eerie film, one that follows a fairly unlikable group of wealthy but ill-fated tourists as they get shipwrecked on an abandoned island, slowly letting their starvation fuel in-fighting and eventually, well, you know, mushroomination. Unlike anything I’ve ever sees, Matango is wonderfully weird.

Perhaps the best con of a movie, Megan Is Missing spends its first 30 minutes or so pretending to be the most insufferable thing you've ever willingly watched. Bratty 8
th grade girls curse at each other like your worst parenting nightmare, only to suddenly teach some terrifyingly important lessons about the dangers of the Internet. Home to the most disturbing single image in a film I've seen this year,Megan Is Missing is a genuinely upsetting indie complete with two deceptively good lead performances.

7. Riki Oh

I could take this paragraph to describe the gleeful punch-through-stomach absurdity of this Hong Kong gory action movie, but no amount of words can truly capture the joy at watching a man attempt to strangle his enemy with his own intestines. Long a cult classic,Riki Oh is something truly insane, insanely joyful, and just a little gross.

Jack Arnold directs Richard Matheson’s novel with full respect, using one everyman’s shrinkage to examine what it means to exist. Sure, the film is most memorable for its giant spider battle (which IS pretty cool), but like the best science fiction, The Incredible Shrinking Manis, at its heart, less about its supernatural gimmick than about how mankind responds to what is thrust upon it.

I wish I had the proper vocabulary to express my complete adoration for this Mill Creek find, a ‘70s cheapie killer kid classic that includes a catfight, bear trap, Boss Hogg, and a piranha tank. It is pure glory.

If Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? cross-pollinated with Day of the Animals, it might look something like this moody Australian chiller. An unhappily married couple is off to spend a quiet weekend on a secluded beach, but their disregard for nature—and each other—leads a host of land and sea-dwelling creatures to fight back. Often lumped in with goofier nature strikes back fare, Long Weekend is far more intellectual than something like Frogs, using the scares of the animal kingdom to better bring out the true monstrosity in mankind.

One of the most innovative slashers I’ve ever seen, Dream Homecombines some truly brutal violence, a sick sense of humor, and genuinely thoughtful commentary on economics, class, and the housing market. Josie Ho plays  a selfish, yet somewhat sympathetic woman tired of seeing others take what she has worked for. With an unusual time structure and morally ambiguous attitude, Dream Homefinds a new voice for an age old subgenre.

The great thing about The Grey is that it easily could have been The Liam Neeson Movie Where Fights Muthah F*cking Wolves. And while that DOES happen, Joe Carnahan’s The Grey is also one of the deepest, most philosophical films of 2012, using a plane crash’s Alaskan survivors as a means to explore what it means to be alive. In between these never overwrought metaphors? Liam Neeson fights muthah f*cking wolves. One of the year’s absolute best.

One word: unicorn

Filmmaking team Adam Mason and Simon Boyes annoyed but intrigued me with 2006’s nihilistic Broken, so it was refreshing to see a followup that further developed their strengths. A mental patient (cleverly played by Andrew Howard) leads a team of psychiatrists to an abandoned house where the titular furniture provides a gateway into a Silent Hill-like dimension of brutality. Filled with terrifying imagery, strong performances and surprising twists, it's a great argument for the continued fight that Modern Horror Is Not Dead (it's just sitting in a chair).

By no means a masterful film, the third installment of this never-been-great franchise takes Warwick Davis' Irish scamp to Las Vegas where the expected Elvis impersonations ensue. On paper, there's not a whole lot to the pint-sized villain's exploits, but in the hands of genre vet Brian Trenchard-Smith, Leprechaun 3 becomes something truly joyous, a fun but not cloying ride into controlled goofiness. Sometimes the act of enjoying a film is enough to make it number 27.

26. Pieces

What a terribly ridiculous collection of awesome, a 1982 slasher that uses everything from chainsaws to kung fu to tell the story of a college killer being hunted by a geek, a tennis pro, and the most useless batch of police officers since Plan 9 From Outer Space. Pieces is an awful, awful film, but one that exists in that wonderful realm of so-bad-it's-laughably-amazing, a realm I like to call heaven.
25. Pin

If V.C. Andrews had a mannequin fetish, she might have written Pin. Instead, it turns out her future ghostwriter Andrew Neiderman had a mannequin fetish and wrote…Pin. Quirky but not cute, Pin tells the story of a doctor (Terry O’Quinn!) who confuses his children’s understanding of sexuality, thus leading to a promiscuous daughter and repressed son who would rather spend time with a medical dummy Dad used to break bad news. It’s not perfect by any means, but Pin is also something truly unique and special enough in its weirdness to make this list.

Thought I didn’t see the universally panned remake, I have my doubts that 1980’s Jamie Lee Curtis disco fest was THAT much better than its PG13-rated reboot. Despite the presence of Leslie Nielson, Prom Night was a mediocre slasher that had one excellent stalking scene amidst a sea of blandness. Imagine my surprise to discover that the 1986 sequel was actually FUN, a self-aware slasher that incorporates wacky kills with high school humor and, hold your breath, Michael Ironside. 

Released around the same time as the goofy (but great)Rumplestilskin, the straight-to-VHS Pinocchio’s Revenge never had much of a positive reputation. I sat down to it expecting a Child’s Playripoff and silly doll kills. Well, the movie IS a Child’s Play ripoff, but not in the way you think. Instead of a pint-sized fairy tale stabbing ankles around him, Pinocchio seems to put the dirty work in the little hands of his owner, a troubled little girl who might be using the guise of a toy to take vengeance on bullies and would-be stepfathers. Or maybe he’s possessing her. Ambiguity is hardly something I’d associate with ‘90s killer doll films, but this one has a little more ambition in its beady blue eye.

Horror anthologies tend to offer the very best and worst of the genre. On one hand, the concise format allows for simple scares or twists. On the other, it can sometimes lead to undisciplined shortcuts or lazy and trite been-there campfire tales. Drive-In Horrorshow takes the anthology and juices it fully with five unique stories that range from clever comedy to dark body horror. Like any anthology, some tales work better than others, but combined in a tight runtime and framed with a groovy post-apocalyptic drive-in setting, this 2009 indie does it right.

"I like people."
"Yes son, but they don't like you."
That exchange has stayed with me ever since I sat down to watch Simon Rumley's horrific little drama about a schizophrenic (an incredible Leo Bill), his broke but aristocratic father, and sweet but cancer-ridden mother, all living in a decaying mansion isolated from modern times. Rumley gets a little too eager to boggle his audience's minds with his surreal experimentation, but this film remains a powerful portrait of a failing family unit. Both this and the soon-to-be-mentioned Red White & Blue show Rumley as an exciting new filmmaker who's willing and able to create characters that are too interesting to be classified as good or bad, and all the more tragic for it.

20. The Horde

When it comes to zombies in the 21st century cinema, there are really only two paths to take: 1. Use them as background or a means to explore a deeper topic (Deadgirl, Dead SetThey Came Back) or just tell it like it is REALLY GOOD. Hence, the French action horrorThe Horde, a fast-paced, fast zombie siege film that does nothing new but everything right.

Misrepresented as a new entry into savage Santa cinema, Rare Exports is something much more special and, well, weird. Part fairy tale and to a lesser extent, horror movie, this yuletide treat keeps you truly surprised with which direction it will take, a rare feat in modern cinema.

I’m often baffled by the lack of war-set horror films, and seeing something as good as Michael J. Bassett’s Deathwatch does little to curb that. Set in the already terrifying trenches of WWI, Deathwatch follows a crew of British soldiers (including Love Actually’s Kris Marshall, Billy Elliot’s Jamie Bell, and Gollum himself, Andy Serkis) as they face impending evil. It’s tense and genuinely scary, marred slightly by cheap-looking CGI but ultimately effective straight down to its final reveal.

15. Insidious

One of the most pleasant theatrical surprises of 2011, James Wan's low budget ghost story (of sorts) actively engages in horror cliches and flicks them away for a good hour. Haunted house? Move out! Lurking figure? Turn the lights on! Evil gnomish demon? Have him dance to Tiny Tim! Yes, it doesn't carry that brilliant energy into its last act, but for almost 75 minutes, Insidious is a scary and strangely funny tale that finds new ways to tell an old story.

While many of my peers gush over the very mention of blood, boobs, & black gloves, the giallo genre has never done much for me. Unnecessarily complicated plots that try to cover up a contrived mystery killer no intelligent person could ever solve? No thanks. Yet when my blogging cohort  T.L. Bugg assigned Lucio Fulci's Don't Torture a Duckling, I was hugely surprised at how much I enjoyed it. The cast is top notch ‘70s stars and the killings come from a definite place of motive. Most importantly, however, Don’t Torture a Ducklingfeatures the most awesome use of a dummy stunt double in the history of mankind.

Larry Cohen doesn't make seamless films, but nearly all the ones I've seen soar with a rare sense of fun present in every frame. Q the Winged Serpent is pure Cohen using his favorite tools: a dingy '80s era New York City, over the top effects, and most importantly, a classically insane Michael Moriarity. Less disturbing than something like God Told Me To and not quite as bombastic as The Stuff, Qmakes for the kind of watch that is simply entertaining in a big ol’ monster kinda manner.

My bias must be confessed: big bugs kick ass. Infestation is a gleefully intentional B-movie about a likable mixed bag of survivors who awaken to discover...big bugs. Spider people, flying beatles, and you know, big...really big...bugs. Like a more fully realized Eight Legged FreaksInfestation revels in its cheese in a so much smarter-than-you-think style. We can only pray to our giant aphid overlords that a sequel scurries our way soon.

Perhaps one of the most pleasant surprises of 2011 for genre fans, this go-crazy-in-the-woods horror movie proceeds with echoes of everything from The Blair Witch Project to The Wizard of Oz yet still manages to be its own original and genuinely surprising treat. The cast of mostly unknowns is universally believable, while the script toes dangerous lines between black comedy and visceral scares. Although the ending doesn’t quite satisfy the strengths that came before it, YellowBrickRoad remains a scarily good trip into modern horror.

George Sluizer’s infamous 1988 thriller is every bit as intense and nail-biting as its reputation leads you to believe. Even if you know the big surprise of an ending (as I did), the film remains a fascinatingly stark look at both obsession and sociopathy. Skip Sluizer’s own American remake (complete with Jeff Bridges speaking like his mouth is stuffed with marshmallows and a token Hollywood happy ending) and save this original dark tale for the kind of day when you need to remember there’s evil in this world.

Less horror than...philosophy? magical realism? It's hard to say. This French film begins on a perfectly novel idea: one sunny summer day, the dead return to life not to eat the living's flesh, but to just...sort there. Your late fiancee now lays in bed next to you not sleeping. Your tragically killed child now sits in a park...not playing. Tax collectors get confused. City councils meet in frustration. They Came Back could be considered a metaphor for a lot of things--the grieving process, immigration policy, local administration--and that's kind of its beauty. This is a quiet, thoughtful film that opens itself up to questions with no easy answers.

When accepting movie recommendations, one could do worse than following the advice of Martin Scorscese. 1964's The Innocents has long topped those lists of forgotten horror classics, often being overshadowed by the better known The Haunting. It's a shame. Starring an effectively cold Deborah Kerr as a frigid governess, the film adapts Henry James' The Turn of the Screw into chilling gothic black and white horror. From the eeriness of British children laughing to the masterful use of shadows, The Innocents represents subtle horror at its best.

Legendary is my love of the pseudo sequel Class of 1999, but this youth-gone-wild punk rock trip is a surprisingly strong piece of ‘80s Canuxploitation. Director Mark Lester imbues his film with grand energy, from the kicking score to over the top costume design and most importantly, fully committed performances from the likes of a baby-faced Timothy Van Patten and a brilliantly losing-his-mind Roddy McDowell. 

If I could give an award for Film That Most Improves The More You Sit Back From It, Red White & Blue would be wearing a tiara and cup waving from on high. Director Simon Rumley already demonstrated a harsh sense of filmmaking bravery (as well as a strong hold on performances) with the aforementioned The Living and the Dead, and with this 2011 followup, he takes horror to a new level. Three strangers--fantastically played by a terrifying Noah Taylor, complicatedly likable Marc Senter, and astoundingly understated Amanda Fuller--find their lives tragically intertwined through an endless cycle of disease and violence. I wouldn't dream of spoiling this film, and while it's not for the weak of heart (or stomach) and won't make you want to smile (ever again), it's a feat of filmmaking and--broken record alert--more proof that genre cinema is doing just fine.

Sion Sono is easily one of the most unique filmmakers working today,a former poet who now uses his camera to explore everything from true love to adolescent angst to parental incompetence and, when in doubt, crazy religious cults. Cold Fish is one of his more disciplined journeys through these kinds of places, following a timid tropical fish store owner/frustrated father through a terrifying friendship with an enigmatic serial killer. It's as funny as it is twisted, and while it doesn't necessarily blaze new trails in the way Suicide Club made viewers rethink schoolgirls on subways, it's still a juicy ride somewhere you've never thought to go.

The fact that Michael Ironside headlines this film was already enough for me to endorse it as a hearty recommendation, so the fact that it's actually A REALLY GOOD FILM is just gravy on the mozzarella cheese fries. This recently rereleased Video Nasty (Brits are such squares) immediately became one of my all-time favorite slashers boasting a formidable villain (sociopathic Ironside with mommy issues galore and pleather tanktops in his closet), strong final 'girls' and a superbly haunting hospital setting. A true hidden treasure of the 80s.

I imagine--and hope--that I'm not alone as a cinema fan in finding true joy when I get to watch enthusiastic filmmakers grow and improve with each project. Director/writer Jim Mickle and actor/cowriter Nick Damici's Mulberry Street showed incredible promise, but it's their epic post-apocalyptic vampire yarn that demonstrates the goods. Much like Mulberry StreetStake Land's biggest strength lies not in its cast, but in the filmmakers' castING. Most horror films--low budget indies in particular--grab the nearest nubile bodies and slap them with sexy clothing and bland backstories. But let's face it: when the apocalypse hits, there will be as many able-bodied soldiers as there are middle-aged nuns, 40something men with weathered skin and scrappy orphan boys learning the trade. Stake Land makes its wasteland environment all the more believable because its occupants are people we know. As its heroes wander through a hell filled with supernatural cannibals and murderous religious fanatics, Mickle and Damici ground their tale in its survivors, pausing to remember life's treasures before vampires are dropped on top of it.

The essence of A Simple Plan is--forgive me--quite simple. A good man's soul can be corrupted by a bagful of money if he lets it happen. In the hands of Sam Raimi and his able cast, it's a great thing that said good man is Bill Paxton, his wife, a Lady MacBeth in the making Bridget Fonda, and brother, an incredibly sympathetic Billy Bob Thornton. The film flows like a modern Shakespeare tragedy about everyday folks who allow themselves to dream too high, only to then become all too ready to do what it takes to make those dreams come true. 

I've never been the biggest Dracula fan, making the fact that Werner Herzog's 1979 adaptation (don't let the title fool you) landed the top spot of my year-end list all the more impressive. From Klaus Kinski's shivering vamp to Isabelle Adjani's haunting expressions, Herzog zeroes in on his instruments' strengths and amplifies them to his own tune. Along the way, we get breathtaking imagery from every direction and even, just for kicks, a full plague subplot. It’s the equivalent of drinking the best cup of hot chocolate you’ve ever had, complete with fluffy marshmallows, the world’s finest whipped cream, elite chocolate shavings grounded fresh from Willy Wonka’s factory, and stirred with a decadent cinnamon stick. The only catch is that it might have been made with read dead rats, but hey, everything has its price, and great cinema is rarely not worth it.


Sometimes a VHS transfer of a silly little genre film no one has ever heard of is a wonderful thing. This enjoyment is amplified when the viewer in question (i.e., me) works for an appliance company and has been wondering privately, “Where ARE all the good films about killer refrigerators?” Thankfully, 1991’s exists in goofy glory. By no means a buried gem, The Refrigerator nevertheless has an incredibly sweet spirit about it, focusing on a pair of newlyweds experiencing real marriage problems as their antique gateway-to-hell vintage fridge does its part to make their lives more miserable. I don’t necessarily endorse a journey through a hell frozen over to find this unreleased quickie, but you know what? It made me happy. And gave me further proof that there is indeed a horror movie made for every existing noun. 

24. Uzumaki

Imagine Hausu in an open space, then add a lot of snails. That's kind of how I took this manga-inspired horror from 2000, a bizarre but eerie trip into...I have no idea. Nope. I understood just about nothing of this one, but that in way meant I didn’t love it.

Following the haunting S&Man, J.T. Petty is slowly proving himself to be a fascinating mind behind genre film. The Burrowers was his more mainstream attempt at horror, and yet even with that conventional sense of modest studio money, it’s a marvel to behold. Set in the Old West, the film follows a few cowboys (wonderfully played by a gaggle of character actors like Clancy Brown and William Mapother) as they search for missing civilians who have been snatched up by weirdly monstrous worm things. The film is dark and atmospheric, but also funny in a manner you rarely see onscreen, helped immensely by the clever dialogue and cast chemistry. Historical horror fans can’t go wrong.

22. Repulsion

Roman Polanski is a hard person to like, but that doesn’t mean he’s not a filmmaker to admire. I will forever defend the wonders of Rosemary’s Baby, which made his 1965 precursor, Repulsion, a film that I would inevitably praise. Catherine Deneuve is a shy manicurist with an absolute phobia of men and sex. When left alone for the weekend, she descends into a paranoid madness, something not helped in the least by a rumbling and manic jazz score. A Criterion release, Repulsion is simply essential viewing for genre or general fans of great direction.

Did I enjoy this psuedo vampire love story? Not necessarily. Made by Bill Gunn as the antithesis of blaxsploitation, Ganja and Hess moves at a pace that makes molasses look like Jesse Owens. It follows a maybe vampire and his maybe new squeeze. It has no musical montages, midnight hunts or blood splattered showers. But with two great lead performances from Duane Jones and Marlene Clark, Ganja and Hess is a weirdly entrancing tale that is undoubtedly unlike anything I’ve ever seen. It’s the film I most want to revisit, yet don’t necessarily look forward to rewatching. When you’re a film lover who cherishes those kinds of puzzles, Ganja and Hess is clearly a hearty recommend. 

I generally disagree with boohooers who like to rant about the lack of true independent spirit in modern cinema, but when it comes to something like the gritty, gory, pooped out in the backyard of Brooklyn classic Street Trash, I can at least understand their point. 1986's bum body melt classic is enjoyable in a way that's impossible to duplicate. It's messy. Amateurish. Nonsensical and sleazy and yet, something about it made me say 'aw.' I can't quite explain why, but I swear the world of Street Trash exists on the same plain of the universe--albeit, a far different corner--as Sesame Street. Just trust me on that one. And watch the movie. 

Getting classy with the classics, I watched Eyes Without a Face to fill in some of those cinematic holes in my ‘50s foreign list. This French thriller is as sad as it is beautiful, as horrifying as it is sympathetic, and ultimately, a unique treat far more disturbing than its date would suggest. 

18. Lo

Fresh and original, Lo is a pseudo musical about a man whose quirky girlfriend was dragged to hell by the titular worm-like demon. As he tries to bring her back, our everyman hero is treated to a theatrical flashback into his relationship, complete with the occasional song and Nazi horned monster. Lo is one of those films you simply have to admire, and independent and unique story with hints of Joss Whedon-like humor and loads of charm. 

17. Splinter

Sometimes you don’t necessarily need a musical sequence or Christopher Nolan complex plot to be a good, memorable film that connects with your target audience. Enter Splinter, Toby Wilkins’ lightweight little horror movie that’s reminiscent of early Stuart Gordon. A likable couple is taken hostage by a gun-toting tough guy (a wonderful Shea Whigham) and his drug addict girlfriend, but that’s the least of their problems once the oddball quartet encounters a zombifying parasite inside a gas station convenience store. With great stop motion effects and four genuinely good performances from our leads, Splinter is, plain and simple, a refreshing dish of horror comfort food.

Last Halloween, you couldn’t throw a popcorn ball at the blogging community without hitting a fan of Ty West’s ‘80s throwback thriller. I got there eventually, and covered in delicious popcorn balls I am indeed. The lovely Jocelin Donahue. plays an unlucky babysitter who slowly--eveeeeer soooooo slooooooooowlllllllyyyyyy--discovers the wealthy and weird older couple about to pay her rent aren’t quite what they seem. West’s style is sublime as it weaves an increasingly tense atmosphere, taking you to the point where you start to forget you’re watching a horror film just in time to be blindsided when it hits. Added to the mix are above average performances (particularly from the spunky Greta Gerwig as a talky best friend) to make House of the Devil a true and rare treat.

Notable for being the first time I ever thought to myself, “Hm. That Don Johnson can act!” Also a bizarre post-apocalyptic romp that involves one of the most interesting man/dog relationships in cinema history, as well as cannibalism, androids, and Jason Robards with painted rosy cheeks. Based on a Harlan Ellison story and directed with full abandon by L.Q. Jones, A Boy and His Dog is not necessarily a perfect film, but it’s one that offers surprise after surprise (plus more work for not so classily dismissed Tiger of the original Brady Bunch). 

On the other side of Ganja and Hess is the 1974 blaxsploitation vengeance tale with a side of zombies tossed in. The titular heroine is as kickass as she is gorgeous, and when a group of detestable white men kick her man to death, you better bet she’s summoning a top hat -wearing devil and his pinball eyed minions to serve some justice. I don’t know who in this world could possibly not enjoy Sugar Hill, but I imagine such monsters are related to the same people who seem to keep this film from getting a proper DVD release.

Rediscovering this 1993 thriller simply made me happy, which, much like #5 on my list, isn’t necessarily a mark of quality as much as it is my own odd taste. Starring a stretching-out-his-comfort-zone Macauly Culkin post Home Alone 2, The Good Son is  a modern telling of sorts of The Bad Seed. Over the top, ridiculous, melodramatic, and weirdly hilarious.

I own a barf bag once sold with second run screenings of Mark of the Devil, a 1970 period piece that wanted (and wants) its audience to believe it was the Saw of the ‘70s. What surprised me the most about Mark of the Devil, however, (aside from just how blue young Udo Kier’s eyes are) was how GOOD a film it actually was. Filled with some of the scariest, most interesting faces to ever break a camera lens, Mark of the Devil doesn’t shy away from gore (see: the rape and extended torture of a pretty blond nun) but it also tells an actual story about witchcraft hysteria in medieval Europe. Sure, the poster wants you to remember a severed tongue, but Mark of the Devil will have you thinking back on some of its performances, its landscape, and general construction instead.

11. Triangle

As film lovers, we sometimes deserve a challenge, something Christopher “Severance Smith's time traveling mindtrip Triangle gives us in spades. A strong Melissa Leo stars as a distracted single mom on a day yacht trip with some very unlucky friends and then---well, to begin a synopsis defeats the very purpose of this film, which uses plot in a magnificent way while also giving us an extraordinary landscape on open water. It's a hearty recommend for a day your brain is fully functioning and another shot in the armor of modern movie haters' claim that there's nothing smart happening in horror. 

When a dirty bomb explodes in LA, a stay-at-home husband must decide whether to let his possibly infected wife inside. What follows is the closest thing I've seen to a modern day episode of The Twilight Zone, an almost two-man show that has you inevitably wondering, 'what would I do?' Actors Rory Cochrane and Mary McCormack do a fantastic job, as does director Chris Gorak in infusing a shoestring budget with true terror. Not necessarily the scariest film I've seen all year, but one that had a lasting effect and easily deserves more attention than a scant Sundance release earned it.

I’m a casual fan of 1999’s backwoods horror and wasn’t expecting great things from its fan-favorite sequel. But holy hillbilly, Wrong Turn 2 is joyous from the opening to the ending credits. Henry Rollins earns demigod status as a military maven turned reality show host, now forced, along with self-aware stereotypes, to battle West Virginian mutants. You’ve seen the story told before, but director Joe Lynch approaches Wrong Turn 2 with such all-out energy that at the end of the day, you’ve just had some of the most enjoyable 90 minutes of your life.

Another modern marvel that succeeded in making me squirm, Tom Shankland’s The Children is, quite possibly, the best cinematic equivalent of birth control ever put to screen. Two yuppie British families relax in the snow with a gaggle of kids and one sour teenager girl. Nobody thinks much of little Paulie’s car sickness...until it seems to spread and lead his cousins on an all-out murder spree. Brutal, scary, and not without depth (see my article in Issue 10 of Paracinema where I compare it to last year’s #1, Who Can Kill a Child?), The Children is an incredibly unsettling and well-made horror film that holds up on repeat viewings.

I'll point all thanks of this movie to my honorary little sister in horror blogging, Andre over at The Horror Digest. This 1960 (now remade) film takes place over a single day--and day it is, title be true--as a pair of vacationing English nurses are separated in a quiet French village. As someone who's lived abroad, I found And Soon the Darkness to be incredibly effective at capturing what it feels like to not speak the language of the only people who might help or hurt you. This film (by The Devil's Rain and Dr. Phibes director Robert Fuest) is the very definition of a slow burn, a full 100 minutes of mystery that doesn't necessarily climax into the biggest blowout, but drags you in so deep that by the time our heroine (wonderfully played by Pamela Franklin) uncovers the truth, you're holding your breath and squirming in fear. 

A feel-good film? Only if you’re a masochist. Lars Von Trier isn’t known for making light-hearted romps, so starting with a plot wherein a couple loses their toddler to tragedy is taking us in an already doomed direction that’s about to get a whole lot worse. Still, this is a gorgeously drawn film with two incredibly lead performances (Sandra Bullock owes Charlotte Gainsbourg her Oscar, first-born child, and Southern grit) and miles of material worthy of hourlong arguments. 

Ever find yourself in a mood where life suddenly seems to be perfect, a wonderful world filled with gleeful possibilities where everything tastes like cheddar cheese and dark chocolate? That’s how Drive-Thru, a random straight-to-DVD slasher starring not just one, but TWO Gossip Girl veterans, made me feel one boring Monday when its poster piqued my Instant Watch interest. Featuring an evil fast food mascot in the guise of a 7’ tall urban-talking clown (named, of course, Horny), Drive-Thru isn’t a good film by any means, but there’s something about its attitude that just feels like a Happy Meal. It wouldn’t shock me to learn that the film reels actually contain cocaine or some form of upper that convinced me I had just seen the best movie of all time. I’m still not really convinced that I DIDN’T.

4. Magic

When a villain terrifies Hannibal Lector, you know you’ve made the right film. Magic was recommended to me by dear friend Damocles, and truly, I will never forgive him for doing that...even if the film makes #4. Dummies are simply horrifying, but Magic, with his gigantic blue eyes, too-cute sweater vests and eerie little accent, is now a frequent flyer in my nightmares. No wonder why Anthony Hopkins threatened to set the doll on fire during filming.

Easily the most chilling film I’ve seen since I can remember what the word ‘chilling’ actually meant, this Australian Instant Watch isn’t quite a horror film, but I know I’m not alone in dubbing it the most terrifying feature released this year. Following a grieving family after the drowning of their teenage daughter, Lake Mungo unfolds like an episode of Unsolved Mysteries but grabs you in a way that physically hurts. Though there’s almost no blood, jump scares or gore, this is an incredibly cleverly crafted tale that slowly creeps into your psyche.

When you spend too much time talking to Internet entities about movies, you hear one argument repeated more than you can stand: there are no good modern horror directors. To them, I say two words: Maurice Devereaux. His earlier Running Man-ish comedy, Slashers isn’t a classic, but it bares the mark of a true filmmaker with an affection for the genre. End of the Line, on the other hand, is a terrifying, smart, and genuinely original subway set horror movie about an apocalyptic cult wreaking havoc in the underground tunnels. It’s heads smarter than most of what you see on the big screen, plus incredibly atmospheric and scary. I remember exactly how I felt after watching it a year ago: regretful that it just missed my year end list. Watch. It.

As some bloggers who will not be named have observed, I REALLY like to talk about The Exorcist III. Those who haven’t seen the film can’t possibly imagine why. The second sequel to a classic, made in the 1990s with studio interference? What could possibly be good bout such a movie? Turns out, almost everything. Directed by novelist William Peter Blatty, The Exorcist III works primarily for three reasons: superb dialogue, engaging performances (it helps with heavyweights like Brad Dourif and George C. Scott) and a few incredibly staged scares that will elicit audial responses of fear. It's not perfect--yes, the studio's interference over the script is obvious--and yet it somehow succeeds in being absolutely terrifying, plot contrivances be damned.

A list of my favorite films watched here during Year One of the Deadly Doll's House (of Horror Nonsense). For the full review, click on the title and find joy.

22. Dead End 
Refreshingly funny under-the-radar ghost story (of sorts) from 2003. It's Christmas Eve and one dysfunctional family is lost  on an eerie back road en route to the in-laws. The road trip sub-genre of horror is nothing new, but with sharp performances and a clever script, Dead End makes it well worth the revisit.
21. Carriers 
2009’s most unfairly shafted thriller, a surprisingly effecting tale of young people attempting to survive a world-wide plague. Great example of how to take the familiar--and overdone--tropes of post-apocalyptic cinema and explore them from a different angle.
Larry Cohen’s disturbing, then chaotic tale of New Yorkers going postal on strangers and their loved ones. The third act is a tad unsatisfying, but some of the early attacks are truly haunting in a realistic, matter-of-fact manner that has stayed with me for months.
19. Doomsday 
Neil Marshall’s all-out Mad Max-inspired action romp didn’t quite wow me the first time I saw it, but upon rewatch, I truly do love the insane gluttony of this film. A guilty pleasure of apocalyptic proportions.
My first (and irresponsibly still only) foray into the catalog of Umberto Lenzi, this zombies-on-Red-Bull horror features some of the best undead attacks you’ve never seen, plus an amusement park sequence that puts Zombieland to shame.

17. Martyrs 
Or The Film That Divided 2008, a manifesto of sorts on torture porn that, much like Cannibal Holocaust, used its subject to explore its themes. Having only watched it once, I’m still not ready to declare it the masterpiece some of my fellow bloggers have decreed, but my viewing experience remains one of the most suspenseful and thoughtful times I’ve had with a film this year.
Another great approach to a tired formula, this under appreciated 2006 film puts a fresh spin on the anthology and everyone’s-a-violent-psycho themes we’ve seen so much of in recent years. The first act, where the renters of a modern apartment complex proceed to tear each other apart with tools and hands, is exhilaratingly frightening, while the second takes an abrupt, but rewarding switch into the blackest of black comedy territory. It falters in the more romantically dramatic final part, but for 2/3rds of its run time, The Signal is a truly fascinating film. 
Without question, the best movie to ever combine Precious Moments and zombies. Laugh-out-loud zomedy that’s follows a Hong Kong pair of Beavis & Buttheadish mallrats as they battle the undead. It may sound like a recipe for unfunny dullness, but Bio Zombie features solid performances, great timing, well-done physical comedy, and dialogue that works in any language.
I was inspired to check out this little gem based on a fine recommendation from Matt over at Chuck Norris Ate My Baby , and though his appetite for children may be questionable, his taste in film is not. From the hombres behind REC comes this nostalgic story of zombie-loving preteens plagued with a moral quandary involving a pit, female Santa Claus, and voodoo. Produced for Spain’s 6 Films To Keep You Awake series, it’s well worth checking out when you want something different. And great.
13. Orphan 
Few things make me quite as happy as seeing good horror in a movie theater. One of those few things is watching a creepy child actor threaten to cut off a little boy’s privates. That may be sick, but nowhere near as much as this 2009 theatrically released  evil kid flick, one of the few that wasn’t a remake or sequel and certainly one of the best. Trashy, scary, funny and mean, Orphan deserves to be adopted. 
There are so many awful zombie films that it’s easy to overlook some of the greats, but this Italian horror (the first in the Knights of Templar series) features some of the most suspenseful attacks in ‘70s history.
11. The Stuff
Can’t get enough...of Larry Cohen’s quirky satirical spin on consumerism, with a wonderfully wacked out Michael Moriarity having almost as good a time acting as we are watching him. Three words: killer ice cream. 
Perhaps the most joyful movie I’ve seen all year, even if does involve suicide, zombie dances, economic hardship, and volcanic eruptions. Takeshi Miike’s musical comedy is a rich dessert of cinematic glee, filled with immensely likable performances and a warm-hearted tale of a family trying to find their way...through song. Yes, there’s gore to be had, but this is a sweetly innocent offering from one of Japan’s most controversial filmmakers and oddly enough, one of the most enjoyably life-affirming films I’ve seen in years.
Haunted houses generally do little but bore me, but this 1976 film does some truly interesting things with an old idea, following a normal young family (although how normal can you be with Karen Black and Oliver Reed as your parents?) as they rent an antique dream house for their summer vacation. Much stranger and more quietly horrifying than you would expect.

8. Baxter 
A black comedy about a sociopathic bull terrier and the Hitler worshipping boy who takes him in. Dryly hysterical and weirdly disturbing. Truly strange in a super way.

Definitely the winning gift of this December’s yuletide festival. Odd little movie about a Santa-loving lonely man who finally decides to make the holiday what it should be, even if that means murdering a few strangers lacking the Christmas spirit. 
Hong Kong martial arts extravaganza with beautiful fight choreography and even better dialogue. Funny and kickass.
5. Onibaba 
Ooooh, prestige. Released by Criterion, so it has to be good. And yes, it is. Feudal Japan plus freaky masks in a gritty black-and-white landscape that puts you under a spell.
Jack Hill’s original cannibal clan horror is pure joy from start to finish, with wonderfully playful performances from masters Sid Haig and Lon Chaney Jr. to lesser known, but truly dedicated youngsters Beverly Washburn and Jill Banner. Hysterical and heartfelt, with a twisted sense of humor brought to life in every scene.
3. Deadgirl 
My pick for best horror of 2009, an indie film that shows there still is life left in the zombie genre. Dark and not overly pleasant, but a great exploration of small town youth, power dynamics, and sexuality.
For the past few years, I’ve followed this tradition of always watching a new horror movie with the lights off the first night in  a new home. Past choices include Kairo and Inside, two wise options that probably affected me far more due to my choice to view them alone in unfamiliar surroundings (also, foreign countries). Tourist Trap’s number came up last May when I officially moved into my current Bronx lair. With only a bed, TV-less TV stand, and Pound Puppy furnishing my living room, I visited Slausen's road museum hoping for something terrifying...and got it. The sheer eeriness of this film--from the cheerful carnival music to icky mannequins--physically gave me the chills. Maybe I was influenced by my new surroundings, but Tourist Trap  remains one of those wonderful first viewings that renews a horror fan's faith in cinema.

Without doubt, the scariest film I’ve watched this past year. A sad and all-too-realistic opening, creepingly quiet buildup, and one of the maddest last hours of any horror classic. Find it. Watch it. Love it. Get sterilized because of it.
Honorable Mention: Inglorious Basterds
Since this is primarily a list of films I watched for the blog, it feels a bit of a cheat to give Quentin Tarantino’s blockbuster an official place on the list. Just know that I love it, and you should too.