Wednesday 26 December 2012

The Top Ten Films of 2012

      It's that time of year when everyone seems to be producing lists, and as this is HMC's first year of being fully up and running it's only fair that it gets to join in the fun. Listed below, and in reverse order, are my top ten horror films of the year. The only proviso was that they had to have been either released this year, or seen on the big screen this year, and not as part of a retrospective or revival. 
      Before we go to the list, let's pause a moment to consider the films this year that fit into the broad category I'm simply going to label 'Rubbish'. Needless to say there was a lot of rubbish on the big screen in 2012. The good rubbish - the kind that made me clap my hands and laugh out loud - included marvellously trashy possession thriller THE DEVIL INSIDE and the sharks in a supermarket shenanigans of BAIT 3D. Most of the truly terrible films were confined to film festivals (HIDDEN IN THE WOODS, THE HELPERS, OUTPOST II) but there was some proper trash on the UK cinema circuits as well. Ridley Scott's PROMETHEUS left me entirely cold with its enormous budget and its made-up-as-they-went-along script, but the winner of worst horror film of the year, and indeed of any year, goes to PIRANHA 3DD. Truly one of the most embarrassing experiences I have ever had in the cinema, and one that made me feel sorry for the horror genre and its fans, this was a sequel that lacked everything - taste, style, horror, comedy - in fact everything that its predecessor had plenty of. One of the few films I have seen that has no redeeming features at all.
      But that's enough of the rubbish - onwards with the good stuff!

10      Maniac

      It caused walkouts at Cannes, and for all the right reasons. William Lustig's MANIAC (1980) is a masterpiece of demented sleaze - 88 minutes inside the head of a psychopathic killer (played by Joe Spinell) that makes for very uncomfortable viewing. Who on earth would want to remake a film like that? Perhaps the most startling thing about the MANIAC remake is not that it happened at all, not in an era when anything and everything from horror’s recent history is fair game for a terrible updating (PROM NIGHT, SORORITY ROW and pretty soon SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT) but that it’s actually very good, staying true to the spirit of the original while being very much its own sleazy grim voyage through the mind of a psychopathic killer, seen almost entirely, in this version, through his eyes. Elijah Wood is worryingly good as Frank and his performance is terrifying, tragic, and, I really hope, not career-destroying. I've written about this movie at length in the forthcoming Little Book of House of Mortal Cinema, due out next year. Herein endeth the first of two adverts for that in this column.

9      The Seasoning House

      Still awaiting UK distribution (quite possibly because of the number of cuts that will probably be needed), this year’s London FrightFest film festival opened with THE SEASONING HOUSE, a grim, brutal, bleak British horror film set in an Eastern bloc brothel. It’s the kind of film that only gets watched all the way through by individuals with an iron constitution and really isn’t my sort of thing at all, so I hope it says something that even I thought this film was rather brilliant, and it was my pleasure to be able to tell director Paul Hyett and members of the cast that when I got a chance to talk to them afterwards. There will be a full write up of THE SEASONING HOUSE, and some snippets of my interview with the stars, in The Little Book of House of Mortal Cinema, and I promise that's the end of the adverts.

8      The Aggression Scale

      Premiered at the Prince Charles Cinema earlier this year, and now available on DVD, Stephen C Miller's debut feature is a cracking horror thriller that takes the HOME ALONE concept of gangsters breaking into a family home, only for them to face the psychopathic and resourceful teenage son of the family who scores 100% on a psychiatric scale measuring aggression. Great performances, editing, score, and a lot of gory violence made this one of my favourites this year.

7      The Pact

      One of the most pleasant surprises of 2012 was Nicholas McCarthy's debut feature THE PACT, which kept me guessing and impressed me mightily with some clever and atmospheric direction, an obvious and extremely welcome EuroHorror influence, and a climax where the suspense built beautifully. Highly recommended. Nick is working on his next feature now and I can't wait to see it.

6      The Awakening

      Released late in 2011 but not seen by me until January this year, so it counts, here is my good friend Stephen Volk's atmospheric turn of the century ghost story. Throughly deserving of a place in the top ten, THE AWAKENING kicked off with an opening reminiscent of the beginning of Hammer's HANDS OF THE RIPPER or the BBC adaptation of THE TREASURE OF ABBOTT THOMAS and then took the genteel ghost story route to provide its subtle shivers. There isn't enough of this sort of thing around and there should be a lot more.

5     [Rec] 3

      I got married this year, so how could my wife and I not love this? One of two films on this list that had as many people reviling it as loving it, [REC] 3 wins hands down as the most romantic horror film of the year. A light bouncy tone with plenty of humour meant that those who wanted the same thing again as was delivered in [REC] and [REC] 2 were bitterly disappointed but never mind - the latest set reports from [REC] 4 suggest they'll have plenty of miserably grim apocalyptic zombie horror to enjoy in the New Year. In the meantime Kate and I have the BluRay of this on the shelf and it's already been watched more than twice.

4      The Cabin in the Woods

      If [REC] 3 divided opinion, Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard's CABIN IN THE WOODS would have caused a geek war if such individuals were inclined to take up arms rather than a computer mouse or XBox controller instead. Loved and hated in possibly equal amounts, there has to be something very special about a film that causes such admiration on one side and such utter vehemence on the other. I loved it - witty, clever, metafictional, and poking fun at the horror genre in such an affectionate and knowing way I still can't understand how anyone can get upset with this unless they take the genre so seriously that they probably shouldn't be partaking of much of it anyway. Excellent film.

3      Sightseers

      How did that get in there? Sneaking in at number three is Ben Wheatley's properly funny, properly horrific, properly British film of a couple who go on a typically dull British holiday and end up murdering a whole load of people. This is a film for all of us who grew up going on holidays like that, only to end up imprisoned in a rain-washed caravan having to watch CARRY ON CAMPING on a black and white TV set with a bad reception. I loved it.

2      Sinister

      God this was good. As I mentioned in my review earlier this year, I don't think I have been so scared in a cinema in thirty years, and the terror-stricken FrightFest audience were the best to see it with. I can't wait for the BluRay of this to revisit the cringing terror and suspense that this movie was able to rack up. Properly terrifying and worthy of your attention if you haven't seen it already, this would have been the best horror film of the year by a country mile if not for...

1      The Tall Man

      So how does a film I never even reviewed get to be number one? Well for lots of reasons, the main one being that you can't write a reasonable review of this one without spoiling the surprises it has in store, so I'm not going to even try. A massive hit in its native France (under the far more appropriate title THE SECRET) the film suffered from some appalling negative reviews by usually reliable magazines like Rue Morgue (a serious miss there, chaps!) and a title change that had many, including me, thinking it was PHANTASM V. I'm not going to say much else about this other than go and see it and expect to have everything you have been shown at the beginning of the film subverted and turned inside out by the end. My one major intention with House of Mortal Cinema is to bring to light unjustly neglected movies that discerning horror fans should see, and movies like THE TALL MAN, or whatever you want to call it, is the reason this site exists, so it gives me tremendous pleasure (as well as an enormous sense of well being) to give it the number one spot.

And there we are! See you in 2013, when HMC should be up and running again properly, & will hopefully include coverage of the movies shown at February's Glasgow FrightFest (including THE ABCs OF DEATH amongst others).

Happy Scary New Year!!!!

Saturday 1 December 2012

Sightseers (2012)

What a marvellous surprise. Despite the tremendous promise of the trailer that was shown at this year’s FrightFest, I was still a bit unsure as to what I would think of director Ben Wheatley’s latest effort. I needn’t have worried. SIGHTSEERS is very, very good indeed, and is the equivalent of such brilliant blacker than black BBC TV comedy fare like the first series of Julia Davis’ NIGHTY NIGHT, or her work with Rob Brydon in HUMAIN REMAINS. In fact the couple in SIGHTSEERS could easily have been a half hour in that show. Thankfully their adventures easily make for a ninety minute feature which is good for us, and good for the reputation of British cinema. There hasn't been anything quite as funny, disturbing, quirky, unpleasant and yet endearing as this on the big screen for as long as I can remember.
Alice Lowe and Steve Oram, who also wrote the script, play Tina and Chris. Tina is the archetypal thirty-four year old woman who has never had a relationship and still lives with her domineering witch of a mother, knitting her own underwear and dreaming of romance in faraway places like Redditch. Chris is a ginger bearded plastics engineer who is ‘on sabbatical’ and has a penchant for caravanning and tram museums. They’ve been going out together (whatever that may mean in their world) for three months, but now it’s a big moment in their relationship: their first holiday together. Their itinerary will include such British tourist standbys as Blue John Cavern, Ribblehead viaduct, and a pencil museum. It will also include a number of murders as members of the general public do tiny things to rile Chris and cause him to do them in in increasingly unpleasant ways. Initially horrified by this, Tina soon starts to get in on the act herself, especially when she catches the bride-to-be at a particularly awful hen party trying to get it on with her man.
It’s rare that a film is actually able to live up to the poster claim of ‘Instant Cult Classic’ but SIGHTSEERS may well be it. It’s a film that encapsulates perfectly a specific type of British holiday and indeed British holidaymaker. Where it scored in spades for me was that it doesn’t shy away from the horror aspects of what is going on.  It would have been easy to make SIGHTSEERS a charmingly quirky comedy about a couple who just happen to kill people. What director Ben Wheatley does for an already splendid script is give it a sense of depth, atmosphere, and realism that means that often you’re laughing at things and then realising you’re properly disturbed by them. Jam packed with quotable lines (“He’s not a person, he’s a Daily Mail reader,” “Every time I find my oeuvre someone shits on it”) SIGHTSEERS is a film whose reputation will grow and grow. I suspect it will do very well in Europe and will either be a fantastic hit or a colossal miss in America, in the same way no-one would have been able to guess how Monty Python would do there.
SIGHTSEERS is really great and I loved it. Writing about it now has made me want to watch it again and I no doubt shall. In the meantime get down to your local cinema and support a bit of homegrown British comedy horror brilliance that we can all be proud of.