Horror Cinema 2011: 20 Best, 20 Worst, and 13 to Watch Out for Next Year

Horror Cinema 2011: 20 Best, 20 Worst, and 13 to Watch Out for Next Year

Dec 23, 2011

Not very long ago I was commenting (ok, whining) that 2011 was one "weak-ass" year for fans of horror cinema. But then I sat down to write a top ten, which became a top twenty ... plus a bunch of "honorable mention" titles left over. And after I finished cobbling together a Bottom 20, just to keep things even, I was irritated to notice that I've already seen at least 13 2012 horror flicks that also deserved a mention.

So here's the whole package, courtesy of me, Movies.com editor and resident film critic for FEARnet.com. Frankly I don't care if you agree with my opinions -- as long as you enjoy reading them.


Top 20 Horror Films of 2011

1. We Need to Talk About Kevin -- “By the time we arrive at the moments of true horror and misery, We Need to Talk About Kevin has transcended basic genre labels and become one of the most insightful, daring, and ballsy thrillers I've seen in years. Take it as a very loose remake of The Bad Seed / unofficial sequel to Rosemary's Baby, or take it as a powerful rumination on the genesis of evil, but make no mistake: this is easily one of the year's best movies.” (full review)

2. I Saw the Devil -- “As in most films with this sort of story, our hero becomes instantly infected by the malicious evil he's trying to destroy. The killer actually gets to cause untold damage because the cop wants to string his quarry along. The movie is loaded with dark ambiguity of the sort, and its themes elevate the film well beyond that of a "cop vs. crook" story; things start to feel downright biblical by the time Act III comes barreling at you.” (full review)

3. The Skin I Live In -- “Gorgeous to look at (this is Almodovar), sometimes frustrating, quietly unsettling and, frequently, darkly amusing, The Skin I Live In may not be your typical slam-bang conventional horror movie, but it combines enough that's genre-friendly and accessible with the trademark style of a truly unique and "artsy" filmmaker.” (full review)

4. Black Death -- “Well shot, edited remarkably well, and boasting a period piece production value that's really quite impressive, Black Death is a smart, scary occult thriller that takes firm aim on various aspects of Christianity (and religion in general) but never at the expense of telling a dark little story. It's unfortunate that there's no real place in the American cinema marketplace for a flick like this, but I'd bet good money that Black Deathis still finding new fans five or ten years from now.” (full review)

5. Attack the Block -- “...a throwback monster movie made by people who clearly adore the films they're referencing. Combine that with some truly astute filmmaking and a playful tone that never goes too light or too dark, and you're looking at a festival circuit winner that's guaranteed to earn a lot of fans somewhere down the road.” (full review)

6. Cold Fish -- “Call it a horror film, a two-headed character study, a morality tale, or a rumination on the fragility of the human ego ... Cold Fish is smart, devious, and confrontational filmmaking from a man who's quickly becoming a master at this sort of stuff.” (full review)

7. The Woman -- “Most films of this ilk would simply offer a house full of victims, an insane killer outside, and a bunch of murders that happen like clockwork. McKee (and his collaborator, novelist Jack Ketchum) seem intent on subverting the basic horror fare by placing "the woman" in more danger than she causes. From one angle, The Woman is "about" the inability to destroy the human spirit (especially a female's), but it's also "about" the ways in which a natural wildness is a lot less horrifying than is a vision of domestic normalcy with something truly foul just beneath the surface.” (full review

8. Dream Home -- “...the sort of import that the genre fans should try to champion. Not because it's almost mercilessly gory, but because it packages some really interesting ideas (and some truly impressive filmmaking prowess; it's shot like a dream, for example) into a full-bore horror film that works just as well on the surface as beneath. Pang Ho-Cheung has bounced around numerous genres over the past ten years; here's hoping he sticks with the horror fare for a little while.” (full review)

9. The Innkeepers -- “If The House of the Devil was his affectionate throwback to the early '80s, then The Innkeepers is sort of an homage to Roman Polanski with a dash of The Shining and a pinch of various other flicks. And while Ti West is still clearly painting with nostalgic brushes, The Innkeepers marks his most original and novel flick to date.” (full review)

10. Seconds Apart -- “If Seconds Apart rambles on a bit in its third act (and spends a bit too much time focusing on the detective's rather uninteresting back-story), those are minor issues from a little chiller that actually manages to deliver something of quality. And if After Dark is planning to continue with its own films instead of picking up some foreign horror fare, they should look to Seconds Apart as an example of how to do it right.” (full review)

11. Troll Hunter -- “Almost certainly destined to be remade by Hollywood, The Troll Hunteris a enjoyably odd cross-breed of horror, adventure, and mockumentary, and it forges ahead with a confidence that can only be found by enthusiastic filmmakers who are creating something they wanted to see as a kid. Ovredal strikes a great balance between silly, scary, and sincere, and it's that cool sense of schizophrenia that makes The Troll Hunter the coolest monster movie import since The Host.” (full review)

12. Undocumented -- “...a surprisngly unique example of how to infuse stark, graphic horror with a few salient points on issues social and political, but it all boils down to plain old morality. (Plus the film works exceedingly well as a plain old suspense thriller, especially in Act III.) The cast takes to the multi-camera faux-verite gimmick remarkably well, and while there are strong performances across the board, Undocumented is almost single-handedly stolen by the ever-nefarious Peter Stormare. The actor exudes intelligent but noxious malice without even showing his face.” (full review)

13. Insidious -- “Perhaps best described as a high-end carnival "ghost ride" that offers thrills and chills both comfortably familiar and excitingly novel, Insidious is absolutely one of the most entertaining horror movies I've seen this year -- thereby proving (once again) that the people who make the best horror flicks are the people who love horror flicks the most. It's unlikely that Insidious will kick-start a stunningly lucrative franchise like Saw did, but I don't think I'd be all that disappointed if it did.” (full review)

14. Stake Land -- “If you’re focused only on the surface stuff, Stake Land is a perfectly satisfying horror flick mixed with a low-key- neo-western. The old gunslinger and the kid feel like a duo yanked right out of an old John Ford western, and the quieter moments between the two men, particularly as the wise old warrior teaches his charge the importance of staying alive, are unexpectedly effective. Outside of that simple framework, however, Stake Land becomes even more interesting.” (full review)

15. Grave Encounters -- “Billed as "The Vicious Brothers," filmmakers Colin Minihan and Stuart Ortiz plow forward with palpable confidence, seemingly aware that both "ghost hunters" and "found footage" are both sort of played out by now, but also aware that they have a few new tricks to bring to the party. The cast helps a lot; even when the characters do patently dumb things (which, to be fair, doesn't happen that often) the five leads do a solid job of selling themselves as both slightly skeptical and then, eventually, truly freaking terrified.” (full review)

16. Fright Night -- “I'll leave it to the comparative thinkers to decide which Fright Night is "better" when all is said and done, but I think the new flick does a relatively impressive job of paying homage to its ancestry while also delivering a simple, crafty horror flick that will appeal to teens without insulting the grown-ups. And when you consider how many wretched horror remakes we have to suffer through, doesn't a B+ effort like this one deserve a nice pat on the back?” (full review)

17. Bereavement -- “Strong but quiet proof that not all "video shelf horror flicks" are created equal, Bereavement is evidence of a group of filmmakers who take their horror seriously. One has no doubt that these guys could do something even cooler with a bit (or a lot) more money to work with.” (full review)

18. Little Deaths -- “As a whole, the flick stands as one of the most unique and challenging horror anthologies in quite some time. The title refers to term "la petite morte," which means "the little death," and is a metaphor for an orgasm. Now that you have that information, or already knew it, you have a good idea of the themes and ideas that are about to be tossed around in Little Deaths.” (full review)

19. Julia’s Eyes -- “While cleverly original in its own right, Julia's Eyes benefits by paying homage to classics like Wait Until Dark and The Silence of the Lambs, but on its own, it's simply a handsome, clever, and entirely engaging little throwback of a thriller. Once again, hats off to Senor Del Toro for not only noticing good, young talent when he sees it, but also acting as a producer-type patron for these great Spanish thrill-makers.” (full review)

20. A Horrible Way to Die -- “Generally sedate and low-key, but peppered with frequent moments of gallows humor, shocking horror, and unexpectedly sincere “character moments,” A Horrible Way to Die is a crafty and calmly mysterious little road thriller that earns big points for simplicity, intensity, and plain old good acting.” (full review)

Honorable mention: (click title for full reviewAtrociousThe ClinicDon’t Be Afraid of the DarkHostel Part 3A Lonely Place to DieSaint NickThe Silent HouseThe Tunnel,Paranormal Activity 3The ReefUrban ExplorerWake WoodWe Are the Night (subtitled, not dubbed!), Yellowbrickroad

Worst of the Year

1. Human Centipede 2 -- “By presenting the sequel's lunatic as a big fan / copycat of the original film, Mr. Six is offering one of three potential ideas here: A) that horror films are to blame for murder; B) that aspiring horror directors should never emulate Tom Six's work (as if that would ever happen), and C) that horror fans are dangerous freaking psychopaths. Any or all of these ideas could make for some astute satire or provocative social commentary, but such is not the case with The Human Centipede 2; it is more than content to be the indie horror flick version of a low-rent carnival sideshow: at first you want to see how much ugliness you can take, but eventually it all becomes too base, too grueling, and too miserable.” (full review)

2. 2001 Maniacs: Field of Screams -- “...once the frankly amateurish parade of “oh so offensive” black / Jew / chick / gay jokes land with a series of loud thuds, we’re treated to an equally low-rent collection of gross-out gore scenes that’d have a lot more impact if they had a point, delivered some thrills, or were intellectually provocative in even the slightest of ways.” (full review)

3. Deadtime Stories Volume 1 -- “Deadtime Stories Volume 1, which has been sitting on a shelf for the better part of three years, is, it pains me to say, pure trash. It's as if a producer had three homemade short films, and not the sort you'd ever come across at a film festival, but in order to make this ungainly mass of footage into a releasable whole, they threw some cash at George Romero. Watching this fine filmmaker quip and pun his way through some witless "Crypt Keeper"-ish blather is one of most depressing things I've seen all year.” (full review)

4. Hellraiser 9: Revelations -- “Forget that the flick looks like it was shot in a strobe-lit warehouse, that the actors (particularly the noxious lead kid) are more or less wholly inept, and that the script is an endless deluge of unintentional hilarity ... we expect bad horror sequels to be bad. But garbage like Hellraisers Bloodline, Inferno, Hellseeker, Deader, Hellworld, and Revelations have gone from laughable to punishing to downright insulting. And yes, I'll be back for Part 10. Dimension will give up on Hellraiser before I do.” (full review)

5. The Perfect House -- “In the hands of some filmmakers who actually treated issues like rape, torture, and child murder with some degree of delicacy and respect, the material broached in The Perfect House could make for some truly unsettling horror fare. Unfortunately, co-directors Kris Hulbert and Randy Kent seem well aware of how silly and generic their stories are -- and so they ramp the "torture and suffering" up to eleven in an effort to distract you from the flat, amateurish acting performances, the consistently dippy and dreary screenplay, and the flick's overall air of low-rent, sleazy desperation.” (full review)

6. Dylan Dog: Dead of Night -- “When I say that Dylan Dog is a New Orleans-based neo-noir mystery flick in which zombies and vampires and werewolves (oh my) co-exist in a balance better developed in slightly better film -- I'm making it sound a whole lot more fun than it is.” (full review)

7. The Roommate -- “Bottom line: The Roommate is even more vacuous and generic than its title suggests. It's a dull, unpleasant thriller with no pulse, no thrills, and no soul. Staring into an empty movie theater with a black screen would be more appealing.” (full review)

8. Creature -- “Fair credit to Mr. Andrews for watching self-reflexive horror flicks likeHatchet and then opting to do for monster movies what that one did for slasher flicks (going so far as to borrow its location), but his pacing is way off; the gore is solid but the scares are absent; most of the actors are, let's be kind and say "unprepared;" and whenever things get really dreary (which is often) the flick cuts back to an ostensible subplot in which Sid Haig screams at his slovenly cronies about how stupid they are. “ (full review)

9. Spiderhole -- “A fine location is wasted in a morass of dull characters, redundant wandering, constant shrieking, uninspired suspense, little to no horror, and a rather mercenary approach to a "sure thing" premise. Writer / director Daniel Simpson may be a big horror fan, but his first feature speaks to a slavish commitment to formula that grows real old, real fast.” (full review)

10. Children of the Corn 8: Genesis -- “Even those who (somehow) hold some nostalgic regard for this series will walk away disappointed because it neither furthers the "mythology" of the series nor does it adhere to the established formula. This is cheap, lazy, uninspired filmmaking that hopes to coast by on a slick DVD cover and a brand name that's still slightly familiar to the horror fans. Don't fall for it.” (full review)

11. Apollo 18 -- “It's easy to dismiss a bad feature film as "something that'd play better as a short," but such is most certainly the case where Apollo 18 is concerned. If it clocked in at around thirty minutes, it would still have the novelty of its premise and presentation, but it'd also be wonderfully bereft of all the dead air, aimless wandering, and redundant dialogue that all but ruin a potentially fun movie.” (full review)

12. Psychosis -- “If it’s possible for a horror flick to be as generic as the title “Psychosis,” then Psychosis is it. Stop me when this sounds interesting: a dreary author heads to her family’s old house out in the woods, only to hear creepy sounds wafting out of the forest, and zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.....” (full review)

13. Scream 4 -- “On a purely technical level, the thing is a gaping yawn: dry scenes that go nowhere and do it slowly, patchwork editing that relies on florid exposition and stupid coincidence, and a lethargic pace that's sinfully light on actual scares. A few cheap jolts, to be sure, because those are easy ... but nothing in the way of actual horror.” (full review)

14. Choose -- “Directed by a first-timer (Marcus Graves) who will certainly move on to better flicks, and written by two guys who should probably turn out better material (well, they wrote Dragonfly, anyway), Choose was slapped together with just enough nastiness and "edge" to fill a 90-second trailer. The film itself is as lazy, obvious, and tiresome as retreads get.” (full review)

15. Cold Prey 3 -- “The first Cold Prey had a hook: it took place in incongruously beautiful mountains covered with snow. The second film found its own angle by taking inspiration from the "all in one night" horror sequels like 1981's Halloween 2. And now comes the wholly disappointing Cold Prey 3, which offers nothing in the way of memorable faces, clever ideas, unique settings, or novel dispatches. It's the sort of mercenarily-produced sequel that killed slasher flicks in the first place.” (full review)

16. The Task -- “Directed by first-timer Alex Orwell with all the creativity his meager budget allows (which means virtually nothing), The Task is as rote and as rudimentary as its premise suggests. When the biggest thrill a horror fan can find is that s/he notices Texas Battle among the cast (because he was in Final Destination 3 and Wrong Turn 2), you're dealing with a pretty inert genre flick.” (full review)

17. Dream House -- “Long-delayed, instantly forgettable, and barely worthy of a footnote on the resumes of the talents involved (not even character actor extraordinaire Elias Koteas can help this film), Dream House feels like the late-arriving and (hopefully) final wheeze of the J-horror-inspired domestic thrillers that ran rampant a few years back.” (full review)

18. The Thing -- “The digital gore is far from the only issue. First-time feature director Matthjis van Heijningen Jr. pays virtually no attention to the isolation, suspense, claustrophobia, and paranoia that ran rampant through the 1982 film, and the result is a movie in which a bunch of interchangeable bearded men wander down hallways holding flashlights. Then we get a fake scare, then a real scare, then a geyser of digital gore, and then we're on to the next slow-witted Norwegian.” (full review)

19. Scar -- “If there's a silver lining to all this, it's that Angela Bettis has survived the mess of Scar and gone on to do much better work. Also I can finally scratch this Canadian curiosity of my "wanna see" list. I highly recommend you do the same.” (full review)

20. Final Destination 5 -- “The filmmakers are so certain that all you want to do is cheer on gruesome death that they make it a little extra easy for you: aside from the thoroughly generic lead boy and girl, every single character is a hateful caricature (the sleazy jew, the skinny ho, the selfish hunk, and on) who says and does despicable things just prior to their stupidly protracted demises. Constructing hateful assholes just to slash them to ribbons isn't horror.” (full review)

So there's the crap. But don't get too sad, horror freaks. Here are a dozen worthwhile horror films that you'll get to see in 2012. (Yep, click the links for the full reviews. I write a lot!)

Best of 2012 so far

All the Boys Love Mandy Lane (fingers crossed), Cabin in the Woods, Cold SweatThe CorridorThe DayKill ListLividThe Loved OnesMarianneMidnight SonMother's Day,RabiesRites of SpringSome Guy Who Kills PeopleYou’re Next


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