In a year when the horror scene was dominated by big-budget sequels (Scream 4, Final Destination 5), remakes (Fright Night), and prequels (The Thing, a run-up to the 1982 film that was itself a remake of the 1951 original), indies and U.S. releases of foreign titles helped keep the genre vital.
A polarizing head-scratcher like Rubber — the story of a sentient tire on a killing spree — may not represent the future of horror. But it’s safe to say you’ve never seen anything quite like it. That’s enough to make you forget (almost) the letdown of The Ward, John Carpenter’s first feature in a decade, a rehash of asylum-with-a-secret clichés with a predictable eleventh hour twist.
The good news is that with a little digging, there are easily ten stand-out 2011 horror releases.
10. Human Centipede 2
Dutch writer-director Tom Six sets out to top his bad self with this
self-referential, black-and-white sequel in which a sweaty, perverted
troll of a garage attendant with a thing for Human Centipede
star Ashlynn Yennie decides to recreate his favorite movie on an epic
scale, assembling a 12-person mega-pede with nothing more than saws,
hammers, upholstery needles, and insane determination.
9. The Dead
Cross Cormac McCarthy’s The Road with Day of the Dead,
relocate the action to West Africa, and change the father and son into a
white American mercenary and an AWOL Ghanian soldier forced to work
together or die. That’s the pitch version of brothers Howard J. and Jon
Ford’s zombie apocalypse picture, which is far more subtle, evocative,
and haunting than it would lead you to believe. And yes, there is zombie
gut-crunching — and plenty of it.
8. Apollo 18
Ignore the haters: This low-budget mockumentary about the fate of NASA’s
last, top-secret lunar mission is a clever little thriller that sweats
the details, from the grainy, blown-out look of the faux found footage
to the early-’70s technology. Strong performances, claustrophobic
atmosphere, and a perfectly paranoid explanation for the
U.S. government’s obsession with recovering missing moon rocks, right
down to the smallest fragment, are the icing on the cake.
7. Stake Land
Sometime in the near future, a virus has turned most of the world into
zombielike vampires, toppling governments, shattering the social order,
and leaving survivors to band together and figure out how to rebuild
some kind of society while dodging both bloodsucking ghouls and
religious fanatics who see the plague as evidence of God’s wrath. It’s
not a genre-changer, but it’s a welcome relief from sparkle vampires
awash in teen angst.
6. Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark
Cowritten by Guillermo del Toro, this grownup remake of the TV movie
that scared the pants off ’70s kids is faithful to the spirit of the
original. But making the terrorized heroine a 10-year-old rather than a
high-strung young housewife gives it real bite, because the meekest
adult has more options than a girl whose dad is caught between her fear
of creepy critters beneath the floorboards and his of financial ruin,
inevitable if he can’t get top dollar for the gilded-age mansion he’s
Newly installed in a swank trophy house in an upscale suburb, a
middle-age couple and their bratty teen daughter suddenly find
themselves hostages in their own home, at the mercy of four thugs, one
of who directs the others by phone and seems to have them under constant
surveillance. Shot in a twelve long, hand-held sequences and largely
confined to a single location, it’s Funny Games without the high-toned moralizing and the inexorably escalating nightmare the suspiciously similar, big-budget Trespass wasn’t.
4. Paranormal Activity 3
Defying the rule of diminishing returns that governs most horror
franchises, the third entry in the series — a prequel — retains the
signature found-footage conceit that lets the filmmakers withhold
information at will without making viewers feel like dupes. It also
gives up some answers to questions raised in the previous installments
without stripping them of their eeriness. That’s a neat trick more
filmmakers should master.
3. I Saw the Devil
Classy torture porn or extreme cat-and-mouse thriller? Either way, this Korean shocker from the director of A Tale of Two Sisters
pits a serial killer against an ex-cop cop who isn’t interested in
arresting the man who raped and murdered his fiancée (hence the “ex”):
He wants to annihilate him. It’s one brutal head game that goes exactly
where you think it’s going until it doesn’t, and does so more than once.
2. The Troll Hunter
Just when you thought the last spawn of The Blair Witch Project
had died a direct-to-DVD death, along comes writer-director André
Øvredal’s Norwegian mock-doc about a bunch of film students who set out
to make a film about bear attacks and uncover a government conspiracy to
conceal the existence of trolls. And not goofy Troll 2 -type trolls, either. What makes The Troll Hunter
such a find is the nimble shifts from humor to horror, a balancing act
that regularly defeats more experienced filmmakers. Be sure to stick
around for the kicker buried in the end credits.
1. Attack the Block
UK writer-director Joe Cornish’s first feature does The Troll Hunter
one better: It’s genuinely funny and genuinely scary, and it draws some
sharply observed social commentary from interactions between residents
of a low-income housing project (the titular “block”) besieged by
vicious aliens. It’s as smart as Shaun of the Dead, a comparison that inevitably comes to mind when Nick Frost ambles into view, if not before.
The lessons from 2011? For all the glossy,
blanded-out remakes of horror gems, there are a few that put authentically new spin on the originals. And
the subtitle-averse might want to rethink their position: Ferociously original fright flicks
continue to escape every corner of the world.