I was really in the mood for some of that new French brutality this week. I was craving a Frontier(s) or High Tension, but Netflix was not delivering. The closest I could find was High Lane, a little indie horror about five friends getting stuck on a closed mountain climbing course. Sadly, it played more like The Descent than Martyrs, but that turned out to be a good thing. I can deal with a first time feature film director clearly copying the beats and editing of The Descent for a sky-high horror film.
I did a list a while back that I found to be a really rewarding exercise. This is finally a continuation of what could, and should, be a series of such lists. It was not an easy task to boil down the fantasy genre to 10 films, but I thought long and hard about it and came up with a list I felt comfortable defending.
Today, I present an even harder task. I’ve seen hundreds upon hundreds of horror films in my life. I’d say it’s pretty safe to say I’ve seen more horror in my life than most people see films, total, in their lives. It’s a lifelong obsession. I used to go to the local Suncoast Video Store and pick up the totally age inappropriate 10/20/50 movies for 5/8/15 dollar collections and watch them like someone in 2014 will watch a TV series: marathoned back to back with questionable quality due to the limits of technology and care. I try not to pass up any free horror film screening I can get to (no matter how bad), even if I’ve already seen the film at home. Like I said, I’m obsessed.
Narrowing that many films down to 10 is not easy. My initial brainstorm had close to 100 films to choose from. But now, I’m left with a ranked list of 10 that make me happy. I feel these are the 10 best horror films ever made while writing this, but the list would change if you asked me to do a final pass in an hour, let alone a day, a week, a month, or a year.
When I was reorganizing my records I use to keep track of what I’ve written about online, I came across a fact that disturbed me like no other. My film reviews since relaunching Sketchy Details a couple years ago have been overwhelmingly dominated by the 2000s. I do a lot more new release reviews than I did at the start of this back in 2004, but back then, I covered a lot of black and white films. I think it’s a shame that I’ve unintentionally abandoned classic cinema and will work on rectifying that in 2014.
Reviewing films like The Haunted Strangler is a good start. This Boris Karloff mystery/horror (oh, how I miss the mystery/horror as a genre) is so beautifully nuanced in a way that modern horror can never get away with. It’s not perfect (it just stops at the end instead of actually reaching a satisfying conclusion), but it’s a whole lot of fun to watch and dig into.
Though I was left a little cold by The Purge, I applauded the concept for trying to do something new with the home invasion horror genre. In broad strokes, all laws are suspended for 12 hours every year to better regulate crime in America. The Purge gets out so much aggression with a free pass on murder and mayhem that the rest of the year goes by pretty smooth. The original film focused on one family trying to keep the house barred up against young adults behaving badly.
The Purge: Anarchy, now on its third title after The Sequel to The Purge and The Purge II, seems to be aiming for a more exciting concept. Forget the poor little rich people with the state of the art security systems. What happens to the everyday citizens who don’t get off the streets in time to seek refuge from The Purge?
Dream Home took me for a bit of a loop. It’s a Hong Kong horror film about a female psychopath doing anything to buy her dream home. I used this review to breakdown the discomfort I had with a traditionally male character type in horror being applied to a female character. It’s a bold film, that’s for sure. They didn’t skimp on the blood or on casting just the right actor to play this murderer.
When I was growing up, I rotated through a lot of obsessive film phases. The biggest ones were musicals and horror films. The Bride of Frankenstein is one of those films that got tossed on the heap because my parents ok’d renting it at the video store. I probably hadn’t watched it in almost two decades and it definitely left a stronger reaction this time around.
This is a trigger warning. Both versions of Maniac are depraved horror films featuring extreme violence against women and really cannot be fairly discussed without acknowledging these horrible crimes. I normally try to avoid those topics when posting about exploitation films, but it really is the substance of these features.
The original 1980 version of Maniac, written by and starring Joe Spinell, is one of the more infamous slasher films. It was released unrated and ravaged by critics as nothing more than violence for the sake of violence. Spinell’s performance was praised (as was William Lustig’s direction) and it comfortably grew to be a cult classic.
The 2013 remake of Maniac takes a different stylistic approach and actually removes the justification mechanic. The original version made it very clear that serial killer Frank Zito became a dangerous psychopath because of childhood trauma from years of abuse. The remake doesn’t offer that excuse.
My second review for Cannonball Read 6 is up. I’m a big Joe Hill fan. He’s a more aggressive writer than his father, Stephen King. The big difference is that Joe Hill lets people edit his work. My big issue with NOS4A2 is the concept itself. I’m not big on child abduction stories in fiction and this one especially brutal.