According to my list of 2011 movies that I managed to watch as of this writing, only 50 of them are horror movies, which is pretty weak. In any event, here are my top 13. Some of these picks are sure to make someone out there roll their eyes in disgust, but whatever. If there are any picks you disagree with, though, or movies that you believe should be included on this list, let me know in the comments section! I'll be posting my overall Best of 2011 list in a few days. Will any of these make my overall top 30? I guess you'll just have to wait and see.
#13 WAKE WOOD - Basically THE WICKER MAN meets PET SEMETARY, WAKE WOOD doesn't exactly scream originality, but it has a very unsettling atmosphere about it that I found to be remarkable. It goes to some surprisingly dark places that I, as a horror fan, appreciate, and it has one of my favorite endings of any movie from 2011. Lead actor Aiden Gillen, who played a sleazy serial killer in last year's BLITZ (which I also thoroughly enjoyed), is great here as a distraught father who tries to comfort his wife during a time of tragedy that revolves around every parents' worst nightmare, and he's believable as someone who would go that extra length to do what he ultimately does in the film, if that makes any sense (trying not to give away spoilers here). Overall, this was a big surprise. If the revamped Hammer studios puts out more moves like this, the future of the horror genre will surely be bright.
#10 DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK - I had very low expectations going into this one, which might be why I ended up liking it as much as I did. As I said in my review of JULIA'S EYES, Guillermo del Toro's name being attached to a project doesn't really hold a lot of weight with me, regardless if he wrote, produced, or directed it. On top of that, I actually like the original made-for-TV movie that this is based on and feel that it would be extremely hard for a film in this day and age to properly capture the same atmosphere and tone of the original without coming across as silly. As it turned out, DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK is, in my opinion, about as good as a remake of a 70's movie about little whispering creatures who live in the shadows could possibly be. There's some impressive imagery throughout, and the film in general is beautifully-shot. I also love that filmmakers retained a lot of the same elements from the original, including the grim ending (atypical for mainstream horror movies nowadays) and the silly but unsettling dialogue that came with it (anyone who's seen the original will know what I'm talking about). What keeps this movie from being higher on my list is that I feel it shows too much and goes out of its way to explain things that, at the end of the day, don't really need an explanation.
#9 BITTER FEAST - A darkly comic thriller with elements of a toned-down "torture porn" film, for lack of a better term, about a down-on-his-luck chef who sets his sights on a scathing food critic. At face value, this may seem like just another entry in the tired torture porn genre because of the fact that it deals with someone who's held against their will and... well, tortured, but I found it to be so much more than that. BITTER FEAST makes a clever commentary on internet critics and how they seem to be complacent with not making any contributions to the arts themselves, but yet asserting themselves into a position to judge others thanks to the power of the web, despite the fact that they may or may not have any credentials that would deem them worthy of such a position. BITTER FEAST seems to be a movie that was made specifically for critics (internet or otherwise) and especially people in the culinary field, but it's presented in a way that allows it to appeal to audiences on a universal level. The fact that it's entertaining, engaging, and well-made should theoretically make it easy for just about anyone to enjoy it.
#8 SCREAM 4 - This one was divisive amongst the horror community when it was released, which is understandable. While I do hold a special place in my heart for the SCREAM franchise, director Wes Craven, and even screenwriter Kevin Williamson, it doesn't mean I won't be critical of them; each of the SCREAM films is flawed, but I enjoy them for what they are - some more than others. I could honestly do without the third, and the same goes for the second depending on the mood I'm in, but I found the fourth SCREAM movie to be up there with the first in terms of being a solid and entertaining slasher movie. Some would argue that Craven - like his peers John Carpenter and George Romero - has lost touch, but I disagree. I think SCREAM 4 is proof that Wes Craven still has some great horror movies left in him just as long as he's aligned with the right crew. As I said, it's very entertaining, and as someone who holds the SCREAM movies in a high personal regard, it's great to see some of the original cast members back for one more go-'round.
#7 WE ARE WHAT WE ARE - A solid horror movie from Mexico about a family of cannibals. Like WAKE WOOD, this one drips with a grim atmosphere. It's been a long time since I've seen it, and I didn't get to re-watch it like I had planned prior to putting this list together in order to refresh my memory, but I do remember being quite fond of the aesthetic and style of the film more than its actual substance, although it should be said that WE ARE WHAT WE ARE is, at times, genuinely suspenseful and gripping as the siblings of the aforementioned family scramble to pick up the pieces following the death of their father and put food on the table, so to speak. From a filmmaking standpoint, director Jorge Michael Grau (not to be confused with the Jorge Grau who directed LET SLEEPING CORPSES LIE) utilizes an interesting palette of muted colors to emphasize the decayed look and feel of the film, and the movie features one of my favorite scores (a jarring, sinister and primitive-sounding string arrangement) in a horror movie that I've heard in a long time. When I saw this movie last July, I was certain that it would be higher on this list than it is, as well as my overall list of 2011 films, but it hasn't really stuck with me as time has passed.
#5 CHILLERAMA - Based on the feedback I've heard on this movie, I just might be one of the only people in the world who has CHILLERAMA on a "Best of..." list. I think Ian from the almighty Cinerama summed this movie up perfectly on his show when he said that it comes across like something made by people who hate horror fans. I can certainly understand that statement. CHILLERAMA has gotten a lot of criticism for its immature dialogue and toilet humor, and a seemingly lackadaisical approach from the collective group of filmmakers behind it. The thing is, I agree with all of those complaints. It is packed with dick jokes and vulgarity for the sake of vulgarity, and it does seem like the filmmakers are trying their hardest to insult the audience, but that's what I love about it. For a horror comedy, it's unusually confrontational, and as someone who hates films that shamelessly pander to general audiences and fanboys alike, I absolutely respect how in-your-face this movie is. Aside from that, I had a fucking blast watching it. The WEREBEAR segment was almost painful to watch at times, but I thoroughly enjoyed the rest of the film, especially Adam Green's DIARY OF ANNE FRANKENSTEIN, which was one of the funniest things I watched in 2011 period.
#3 A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE - After hearing great things about director Adam Wingard's YOU'RE NEXT coming out of last year's TIFF, I made it a point to familiarize myself with the director's work starting with A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE, which, conveniently enough, saw a North American DVD release in September of last year. This movie features a simple set-up of an escaped prisoner with an uncontrollable lust for murder, who seemingly tries to realize his destiny of re-uniting with his ex-girlfriend (a recovering alcoholic) and subsequently killing her, or so it would seem. As the non-linear narrative unraveled, it became clear that A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE was something special; when the film took a sharp turn towards the end and blind-sided me with something that I did NOT see coming, the deal was sealed. Though far from perfect, pretty much everything about this movie just clicked with me. The flawed "final girl", the small-town setting, the cold and gloomy look of the film, the excellent use of sound, and the well-constructed non-linear narrative that I mentioned earlier are just a few reasons why I gladly sing the praises of this nasty horror flick.
#2 TUCKER AND DALE VS. EVIL - I was a bit cautious going into this one because of the hype it received in the horror community, and I also had my apprehensions because of the concept - a horror comedy that basically plays out like a backwoods horror movie from the perspective of the supposedly inbred redneck killers. TUCKER AND DALE ended up being an absolute blast to watch and surpassing any expectations I had for it. I honestly can't think of many other movies from last year that made me laugh as hard as this one did. I mean, it wasn't consistently funny and some of the jokes did indeed fall flat, but there were at least two gags in the film that had me laughing to the point of tears. Surprisingly, it also delivered the goods in the horror department with a few gore-tastic moments. My only complaint would be that it runs out of steam in the third act, but it wasn't enough to take away from my overall enjoyment of the film. It should also be said that the three primary cast members are great.