A Horrible Way To Die
I didn’t know a thing about A Horrible Way To Die going in. It was a random choice made at Film4 FrightFest 2011, and boy was I happy the gamble paid off. I described director Adam Wingard’s directorial approach has being a bit like that semi-conscious state where you’re really drunk and ready to pass out or those moments where you get up in a morning and are somewhere between properly awake and still longing for an extra half-hour. The word ‘pretentious’ was bandied about but it’s most definitely not. Amy Seimetz is a troubled young woman trying to rebuild her life after discovering her boyfriend is a serial killer. AJ Bowen and Joe Swanberg support. Please check out this excellent movie.
I saw Shunji Iwai’s Vampire, again, as a totally random punt during a visit to Stockholm Film Festival last year. I couldn’t get into another movie – a weightlifting drama called All She Can – so headed across town to the lovely Victoria cinema to watch this.
Vampire left a great impression on me. Melancholic and softly surreal, a high school teacher named Simon joins online suicide chat rooms, strikes up relationships with vulnerable sorts and they plot a double suicide. Only the teacher doesn’t go through with it, leaving him to drain the victim’s blood, quaff it down like finest champagne and immediately puke it back up. It’s not technically a vampire movie but is a truly dark piece of film-making about subcultures and ‘finding beauty in ugly things’ (according to the director). This deserves wider recognition. It’s also got one of my favourite endings to a film.
The Soska Sisters, Jen and Sylvia, came onto the scene with a gonzo splatter comedy going by the name Dead Hooker in a Trunk. For their second effort, American Mary, they dropped the madcap silliness and created a beautiful-looking flick about a young medical student who delves into the world of body modification to make a fast buck. Katharine Isabelle is fantastic in the lead role and the Soskas state their case as film-makers to watch.
Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani’s triptych psycho-horror employs plenty of keen giallo tropes whilst offering something genuinely new. It also borrows famous scores from classic Italian horror movies in new contexts, which is fun for giallo enthusiasts. Bursting with primary colours à la Argento, packed with fun references, and unusually, a giallo with a female lead that isn’t sleazy, Amer deserves the label ‘neo-giallo’ as it takes the iconic Italian movie to inventive shores. Just don’t go in expecting a straight up pastiche. You can watch Federico Zampaglione’s Tulpa for that.
Shinya Tsukamoto’s fabulously deranged Kotoko is aided by clever use of sound design and a committed performance from Japanese pop singer Cocco. I love it when a movie provides an electric ‘HOLY FUCK!’ moment and Tsukamoto achieves that in one tremendously gory scene. If you’ve seen his Tetsuo movies, you’ll know Tsukamoto is the genuine cult article and Kotoko is a really excellent psycho-horror to rank with the likes of Repulsion.
Julien Maury and Alexandro Bustillo’s latest picture, Livid, is a world away from their French Extreme entry Inside. What we get is a near-classical gothic horror tale with a Celtic twist. It also uses the vampire genre to explore themes of emotional longing and the desire for connection. Watch out for the cheeky reference to Suspiria which sort makes Livide a spiritual cousin (sort of). If you read reviews telling you this wasn’t very good – ignore them.
Lucky McKee’s The Woman is brutal stuff and was undone a wee bit by festival hype. (Yes, it’s not just blockbusters that suffer from overhype). My issues were more to do with a sense it wasn’t as original as being made out to be. Also, it’s message that “men are bastards” is hardly new or profound. And yet this was a supremely nasty, misanthropic picture that was in my head for days. Cool soundtrack, too, by Sean Spillane. I’m expecting McKee to hit a homer with his next film.
Richard J. Bates’s debut is being bigged up as more a teen angst comedy/satire than horror film but it’s really fucked up and full of trangressive imagery – which makes it a horror film! When a film such as Excision comes along, it’s time to get evangelical and spread the word. Annalynne McCord comes out of nowhere (well, US televison) to give us a magnet performance and unforgettable character in teenage timebomb named Pauline.
Olivier Abbou’s post-9/11 allegory, Territories, is situated right in a tale of terror not that far away from the likes of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. A group of young kids on their way back from a trip to Canada are stopped by customs officials. Only they authority figures are not legit and actually two psycho brothers who proceed to torture their captives whilst maintaining a facade of lonely but ordinary American citizens. Lensed by Karim Hussain (Hobo with a Shotgun, Antiviral), this is a really strong work with plenty to say on modern-day American paranoia.
David Cronenberg has stopped making the kind of body horror films that made his name and if his boy Brandon wants to continue, by all means. Antiviral is a fascinating film that draws on celebrity worship and vampire motifs. It’s also pretty brave to give us a film in which every single character is near enough a blank type. There’s something very Kafkaesque about Antiviral in that absurdity is never questioned and our hero, Sid March (Caleb Landry Jones), just as fucked up as the punters he offers celebrity diseases to.
A Night of Nightmares
I discovered two Buddy Giovinazzo films this year. His 1984 debut, Combat Shock, and his latest, a brilliant ghost story that goes by the title A Night of Nightmares. It’s not often a horror film gives you incredibly likeable characters but Giovinazzo’s film gives us such a thing. The film is also really funny and genuinely spooky in all the right places.
The Cabin in the Woods
Nobody quite expected Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard’s The Cabin in the Woods to be the triumph it turned out to be. Nobody. The major reasoning being was the length of time it took for the damn thing to be released, largely down to M-G-M’s fiduciary troubles. Of course trust Joss and Drew to pull out one of the smartest, funniest and most post-modern horror films ever. It takes apart the genre and staples it back together in 90 minutes of iconoclastic goodness.
The House of the Devil
Made in 2009 and released in March 2010 (UK) -so cutting it fine – Ti West’s The House of the Devil is one scary bloody film. It also had a really cool retro opener with music from Mike Armstrong (who wasn’t paid for it, either). Starring Jocelin Donahue, mumblecore queen Greta Gerwig (who gets her face blown off by a shotgun) and Tom Noone, sequences in this are bone-chilling. West also followed this up with the very good haunted house movie The Innkeepers.