i saw the devil

Top 10 Horror Movies Of 2011

As much as I love all types of movies, horror is a genre that I tend to lean towards more than most. I enjoy just about all kinds from slashers to creature features and all styles from cheesy to serious. Horror is a genre ripe with opinions and vastly different tastes but every there’s a small selection of films everyone can agree on and some that everyone has completely opposite opinions on. Below is the list of my favorite horror movies from 2011- a year of ups and downs and certain movies that have split audiences. Differences in opinion are what make these lists as fun as they are so feel free to discuss your favorites and least favorites in the comments below.

10. Chillerama – If you are in the mood for schlocky cheesy exploitation type movies than CHILLERAMA offers you a wide selection of shorts films to chew on. If not for a mediocre title in I WAS A TEENAGE WEREBEAR this could have been even more fun. This is the type of movie you put on with a group of friends and a lot of drinks to go around.

9. A Horrible Way To Die – This one is not everyone’s cup of tea. Overall A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE comes off as an ugly and brutal film. The style is very indie and feels basically like a mumblecore film, the female protagonist has issues and AJ Bowen while fantastic is a nasty little character. While all that may sound unpleasant it was still pretty fascinating to watch, especially just for AJ Bowen’s fantastic performance as a killer struggling with his addiction. It can be a tough film to accept- so don’t blame me if you see it and come out with a burning hatred for the film.

8. La Casa Muda (The Silent House) – This film finally made its way to DVD in the states this year and I jumped on the opportunity to watch it. LA CASA MUDA is billed as a horror movie shot in one continuous take and while I feel they could easily be cheating in that regard the film is still a pretty freaky haunted house ride that is never boring. Some of the twists we’ve seen before but overall the film really delivers some bone chilling scenes of tension and some really effective scares.

7. Scream 4 – Here we go- the expletives are really hurling at the computer screens now. I had a ton of fun watching SCREAM 4- is it as new and exciting as the first entry? Not really- but I’ll be damned if it wasn’t a major improvement on SCREAM 3. It was great seeing Dewey and Gale back on the big screen as well as the menacing voice of Ghostface. The finale is packed with plenty of issues but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy those too. Also, if you weren’t laughing during all the opening fake outs, then this movie wasn’t meant for you anyway.

6. Fright Night – For those I haven’t lost with the previous pick I’m bound to lose now. If not then hear me out- I am not the world’s biggest fan of the original FRIGHT NIGHT. I don’t hate the movie I just think I was many years late to the party. That being said the remake is not transcendent stuff- in more ways than one it doesn’t necessarily improve on the original- I just found it more entertaining. Colin Farrell hams it up as Jerry the vampire, the score is pretty good and the effects aren’t anywhere near perfect but they are fun. The point is that even though FRIGHT NIGHT probably didn’t need to be made- it was and since it’s here and is a ton of fun I’m just going to sit back and enjoy it.

5. Paranormal Activity 3 – I really wasn’t sure if a third sequel on this series could be worthwhile. Luckily for me this sequel brings back a lot of the thrills and chills of the first film while also adding to the mythology and introducing some cool camera tricks and finally some characters that you can care about. PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3 had marketing that misled some viewers but for me it only added to how enjoyable it was.

4. Black Death – Some might remember a little film called TRIANGLE that really blew me away a while back. Well the director Christopher Smith came back with this grim little film that tackles a time period I usually have a hard time watching. BLACK DEATH is a film that hooked me from beginning to end by adhering to an incredibly bleak and dark tone that made the time period easier to deal with. The acting is top notch and the material is heavy stuff that is great fodder for dramatic and gothic horror.

3. I Saw The Devil – I love splatter cinema as much as another other horror fan and on that alone I SAW THE DEVIL is number one material. When I sat to make this list as much as I do love this movie the top 3 all have so many different aspects to them that would qualify them for the number one spot it was hard to choose just one. From here on down just know that the films are interchangeable. I SAW THE DEVIL is brilliantly acted and executed and it is never boring but is a very challenging watch due to the grisly violence. The film has several memorable sequences but the standout involves a taxi and it is one of the most astonishing sequences I have seen all year.

2. Insidious – The second film in what I would cheat and call a three way tie is a great ghost story from James Wan. The SAW helmer put together a beginning of a brilliant creepy film and ended on a bit of silly and bizarre finale. The ending is a bit strange but it has its own very creepy and dark aspects to it. The first half is so creepy and atmospheric that it is hard to deny that what the film ended as is a great exercise is ORIGINAL horror.

1. Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil – Finally, what we have here is a film that for horror fans is not full of crazy violence and isn’t all that creepy. What TUCKER & DALE VS. EVIL is however is a film that is extremely funny in its jokes and deaths and it has a great amount of heart as well. This is a horror film for those that want something a little lighter that has more of a crowd pleasing tone to it. It’s not as challenging to wrap your head around, but that doesn’t make it an inferior film because the jokes are smart, the premise is both witty and surprising and it delivers in both horror and comedy.

On the flip side there are a lot of films that are far from being mentioned in a best of horror list. I did not get to see the widely panned RED RIDING HOOD but I tell you what- I think I dodged a bullet there. There are a wide variety of direct to DVD releases that, let’s face it often end up being less than satisfying. Some of the more disappointing releases I was able to see over the course of the year were THE PERFECT HOST, which didn’t strike me as terrible at first but after a while it lost more and more of my respect and I was also pretty let down by HOSTEL PART III. The HOSTEL sequel was not offensively bad but it did nothing to add to that series minus the cool Vegas aspects of the story.

A few other direct to DVD titles I didn’t get a chance to see were CHILDREN OF THE CORN: GENESIS and HELLRAISER: REVELATIONS but I did see the trailer for the new HELLRAISER and I have to say it looked like an atrocity. The most perplexing horror story of the year for me is another movie I didn’t get to see which is the same for quite a few people I’m guessing. The film goes by the name of CREATURE and the odd thing here is that it got a relatively wide release in over a thousand theaters- the balance shifted back to normal the week after release and the box office returns were dismal and theaters immediately threw it in the dumpster.

For me though the undisputed loser of the year was CHROMESKULL: LAID TO REST 2. I really need someone to explain to me why there needed to be a sequel to LAID TO REST. I gave what little credit I could to the character of Chromeskull because of his look and his weapon of choice. I am still dumbfounded by what I witnessed in LAID TO REST 2- nothing makes sense to me. I don’t understand the company that’s working for Chromeskull- or is Chromeskull working for the company and he has seniority? Why is Chromeskull making out with dead bodies? What in the hell is Brian Austin Green talking about half the time and why did anyone ever give him work? LAID TO REST 2 is a massive miscalculation by everyone involved and I will not be sad if they decide to lay the series to rest.

Well that’s my thoughts on horror for the year that was 2011.  Here’s hoping 2012 gives us some more thought provoking, cringe inducing and jaw dropping horror moments for horror fans to chew on come this time next year.

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Halfway Home: Best And Worst Of 2011 So Far

We are about midway through 2011 and have quite the selection of movies that are now under our belts. As it happens just about every year I haven’t had the chance to see everything that I have wanted to see, but I feel like I’ve seen enough to pick out some of the highs and lows of the year so far. I’m more than delighted to say that I have only a couple of lows, a vast selection of movies I really enjoyed and a handful so far that I’ve loved. Theatrically I feel like I have yet to run across that movie that just leaves me breathless by the end, but I have been hit with plenty of charm and excitement in some of my favorites while being bored and extremely let down by some others. Here is my list of best and worst movies so far in 2011 and here’s hoping for an explosive second half of the year!

Note: Movies are listed in no particular order. Also, this is by no means every movie I’ve seen and liked or disliked, just a selection of my favorites and least favorite. Take solace in the fact that there is far more that I liked than I hated.

BEST

Win Win: Tom McCarthy’s WIN WIN was equal amounts of charm and genuine comedy. Solid performances from Paul Giamatti, Amy Ryan, Bobby Cannavale and newcomer Alex Shaffer certainly put WIN WIN in a good position to end up as one of the best films in 2011. Of the comedies I’ve seen so far this year WIN WIN is the most wholesome and good natured form of comedy and strays far away from the raunchy style of films like BRIDESMAIDS and THE HANGOVER PART II. Along with the spectacular comedy, WIN WIN is also quite heartwarming as well.

X-Men: First Class: When this prequel was announced my excitement was almost non-existent. I have seen all the X-Men movies that came before, enjoyed three of them and loathed another but didn’t love any of them. I loved X-MEN: FIRST CLASS despite some of my complaints about the cheesiness in the script and some shaky special effects here and there. Michael Fassbender’s performance as Erik the tortured concentration camp survivor who becomes Magneto was very compelling and stole the show. James McAvoy was also far better than I expected and Matthew Vaughn gives the film a very sleek and effective look while placing the X-Men in a historical setting.

Bridesmaids – I’m actually a little shocked to be able to be including this one on the list. When I saw the previews for BRIDESMAIDS I thought for certain all the good stuff was in the trailers and the rest would be complete chick flick fluff. Color me surprised that I found BRIDESMAIDS to be extremely funny, charming and able to avoid making an all female cast come off like a bunch of shill annoying witches. Kristen Wiig is very funny and relatable and the rest of the cast has a handful of very funny moments. Overall though, even as the film devolves into some over-the-top comedy the heart of the film feels very real and down to Earth.

Red State: Kevin Smith’s RED STATE has yet to see even a limited release so far this year, but I did get a chance to see it back in March and in some way shape or form had a great time with it. The movie itself is dark with the hateful and violent nature of the people that inhabit the Five Points church, but there are still hints of Kevin Smith’s signature humor. Michael Parks gives one of the most intense and riveting performances I’ve seen all year so far and the rest of the cast surrounding him are very engaging as well. Smith’s fans (I’m one of them) will eat up every bit of RED STATE, but more importantly I believe even Smith’s haters can get just as much enjoyment from it.

Super 8 – Lots of people seem to have written SUPER 8 off for its sense of nostalgia and even more nitpicking over certain events that to me didn’t even factor into my overall enjoyment of the film. The train derailment is over the top but 100% awesome in grand fashion, there are certain things that don’t make complete sense, but NONE of it lingered in my mind as a reason to not like the movie. For me, SUPER 8 was phenomenal and I feel that way due to the quality of the child actors. The performances all around were very enjoyable; the special effects were great as well as the tension during the attack scenes. Aside from one scene towards the end of the film that did not pay off the emotional resonance built throughout the film I found SUPER 8 to be MINT (just in case no one’s sick of that word yet).

Insidious – As a fan of horror movies it saddens to report that there is a serious lack of good horror movies so far this year. It seems the majority of horror I’ve been watching and liked have all been from last year or films just being released on DVD this year but premiered long ago either at film festivals and never played nationwide. INSIDIOUS is filling in that very large gap in my heart because I don’t consider RED STATE or SUPER 8 to be horror movies. INSIDIOUS is however and for the first two thirds of the movie it is a stellar one at that before it really asks the audience to make some tough choices in the finale. The choices being to go along with some very absurd moments or abandon ship altogether. While I was on board I recognize the of kilter moments at the end and because I didn’t abandon ship I came out really loving the film.

I Saw The Devil – This is kind of a cheat pick for the list because technically I SAW THE DEVIL found an extremely limited 2010 theatrical release. That release didn’t find its way near me though, so while you probably won’t see this on the year end top 10 list I felt it deserved its just desserts. If I could go back and redo my top 10 of 2010 I SAW THE DEVIL would have easily stole the number 1 slot from BLACK SWAN; that’s just how much I loved this movie. I SAW THE DEVIL is brutal and uncompromising in its violence and despite the familiar revenge movie tropes it finds twists and turns that kept me guessing. If you haven’t seen I SAW THE DEVIL I can’t recommend it enough.

Scream 4 – No list is ever really complete without something a tad bit controversial and with a slew of sequels to pick from I figured I’d pick the one I like the most. I already mentioned how lackluster the horror releases have been this year and of course my disdain for Craven’s previous effort MY SOUL TO TAKE. All those considered I really loved SCREAM 4 and it makes no difference to me how few people agree. The fourth sequel in more ways than one improves on SCREAM 3 while also being somewhat of a reboot of the series. Keep in mind though it does not improve on the first SCREAM, but the kills are brutal, the script is funny and I tip my cap to the batsh*t crazy finale that goes on way too long.

WORST

Sucker Punch – Zack Snyder’s fantasy film is as hollow and full of hot air as the reanimated zombie soldiers in the center of one of the film’s better action sequences. Aside from some of the cool visual effects there is little to zero substance behind any of the cool CGI effects. I can make peace with the fact that many people did find enjoyment in the film, I myself had some fun in laughing at some of the terrible dialogue and incoherent nonsense Zack Snyder threw on screen. However, the entertainment I came away with was not the kind I wanted and certainly not the kind I will ever sit through again.

The Rite – I really wanted to like THE RITE. Going in I had little hope that it was going to be any good, so at the least I was hoping for something that would surprise me and be marginally decent. Unfortunately, THE RITE is painfully boring with an even more painfully dull performance from Colin O’Donoghue in the lead role. Anthony Hopkins gives it a decent go but just can’t save THE RITE from collapsing on top of itself. With the exception of THE LAST EXORCISM I’m still waiting for the next great exorcist/exorcism film and THE RITE certainly is not it.

Movie Review: I Saw The Devil (2010)

Every so often I can watch a movie and have one scene that takes place and immediately after I have that feeling that tells me I’m going to love the film even if the ending doesn’t blow me away. I had exactly that moment during Jee-Woon Kim’s brilliantly twisted I SAW THE DEVIL, except if it was just one scene I’d have been happy, but I SAW THE DEVIL is chock full of some pretty jaw dropping scenes of action and violence. With a hefty runtime that contains an almost non-stop barrage of intense character conflicts and shocking brutality Jee-Woon Kim has given movie lovers a sublime cat and mouse game that is at times hard to watch but also impossible to take your eyes off of.

Min-sik Choi stars as the deranged serial killer, Kyung-chul, who has a penchant for stalking women and sexually assaulting them before he brutally murders them. Byung-hun Lee also stars as the secret agent, Kim Soo-hyeon, who plans a vicious revenge plot against Kyung-Chul after his pregnant fiancé becomes the latest of Kyung-Chul’s victims. Soo-hyeon soon becomes a monster himself while catching Kyung-Chul, harming him in horrific ways, releasing him back into the public and repeating this loop multiple times.

I think the most disturbing thing about I SAW THE DEVIL is how watchable it ends up being even with all the brutal and sadistic the violence upon women and other characters. Jee-woon Kim is unafraid to show you uncompromising shots of shocking violence and giving them to you in an almost nonstop fashion. When the characters are not maiming each other they are involved in sequences of dialogue describing sadistic intentions or sneaking in some dark uncomfortable laughs. The conflict the audience takes on is how far we are willing to accept Soo-hyeon’s revenge before he becomes almost as unlikeable as Kyung-chul. Of course Kyung-chul is morally reprehensible as a character and it’s natural to want to see him get what he deserves but what you don’t want to happen is to see the man tasked with being the hero descend to his level to the point where you don’t take joy in the revenge. Luckily, I never got to the point where I felt the psychopath Kyung-chul didn’t deserve the torture, but did feel the dread of the consequences of Soo-hyeon’s actions.

The performances are phenomenal; Byung-hun Lee embodies the damaged psyche of a mourning lover while also putting on the mask of a vengeful monster at a believable and almost scary level. Min-sik Choi, however, at times upstages Lee with his disturbing portrayal of a completely miserable human being. Choi plays a calm cool and collected serial killer and looking into his eyes becomes absolutely chilling and hearing his voice just adds tension to the scenes. Choi embodies the character that shows no remorse or regrets for his actions at a sickening and disturbing level.

If performances and impressive character drama don’t do it for you, then if for nothing else you should see I SAW THE DEVIL for one scene in particular. I don’t want to spoil the whole scene but just keep an eye out for a scene where the beaten and bloody Kyung-chul hitches a cab ride. Once that scene kicks in buckle up because it is a wild, wild ride.

If my overwhelming praise hasn’t already sent you running to go check it out you’re already missing out. I loved I SAW THE DEVIL more than any English speaking movie I saw throughout 2010. I didn’t revel in the gratuitous and brutal violence, but I admire the filmmaker’s commitment to it and I was left in awe by how it affected me. The cinematography is gorgeous, the script is sharp and sometimes funny and the two main performances are phenomenal. I don’t believe that any movie perfect, but I have very little if anything to gripe about here. Jee-woon Kim’s I SAW THE DEVIL is an intense, brutal and haunting work of art that I personally won’t soon forget.