A good year means you struggle with your top 10 list because so many films are worthy of being singled out. A bad year means you end up throwing some in there just to fill space. Well, for me (and by that I mean I'm only talking about horror here), 2012 is sort of in between: the top five films are terrific and the sort of thing that gives me the strength to keep watching these things every day. The bottom five slots, however, are all films I enjoyed, but never thought "Top 10!" until I went over the year's list of movies and discovered that they were indeed better than most of the competition.
2012 actually just gave us a lot of one time only affairs like Resident Evil 5 and The Possession, meaning they entertained me on my sole viewing but didn't have a single thing that would inspire me to watch them again or add them to my collection. Luckily, as you'll see from the other lists here at Badass, 2012 was a pretty great year for movies in general, so who cares if the horror genre only had a few classics when we had movies like Django Unchained, The Avengers, Argo and Skyfall to make up for it?
I sadly had a private showing of this one (save for a theater employee who wandered in a few times) when it played in LA in the late fall, which is a bummer as it was one of the more interesting slow-burn horror films I've seen in quite some time. Our hero is a young father who has to raise his newborn alone after the wife goes into a coma shortly before childbirth, and he is haunted by a group of hooded "children" (spoiler: they're not children) in his rundown neighborhood. An enjoyable exaggeration on the fears of being a new father, this Irish flick deserved better than a dinky little release, but will hopefully find its audience on DVD and (sigh) OnDemand.
9. The Bay
The biggest problem with any found footage movie is the "Why are they still filming?" question, so kudos to Barry Levinson (!) for finding a way around it. Rather than offering one person or group's perspective on the events, the film is pieced together from a variety of sources (cell phones, surveillance cameras, actual cameras) as it tells the tale of a town besieged by a water-borne virus that is basically causing them to melt. This allows Levinson to cut in a few good stand-alone scare scenes while skipping over the usual 40 minutes of "nothing happening" that plagues so many others. Not without issues, but in a year that was completely overrun with such movies (I saw at least sixteen of them), I was happy to see someone breaking tradition while delivering a few good jolts, not to mention Cabin's lovely Kristen Connolly in another heroine role. One more and she's officially a Scream Queen!
8. The Collection
As a die-hard fan of the Saw series, I'm still sort of in withdrawal that they're no longer blessing us with new entries every year (I refuse to say it's dead, dammit!). Luckily, I have movies like this to help reduce my addiction, like a nicotine patch to a chain smoker. Coming from the team of Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton, who wrote Saws 4-7, this is actually a sequel to their equally enjoyable film called The Collector from 2009, but whereas that one was a sort of inverted home invasion flick, this is basically Aliens (or The Rock with gore), as the survivor of the original is forced to lead a team of badasses to the villain's lair to rescue his latest victim before it's too late. Clocking in at a perfectly breezy 75 minutes without credits, it's one of the most delightfully gonzo wide releases I've seen in ages, with a body count that probably tops 50, insane, Giallo-inspired set design and the single best escape plan in cinematic history. "Sorry dude!"
I honestly can't decide which of these two I like more. ParaNorman was more in line with my sensibilities (zombies! New England!) than Frankenweenie, but the latter film tugged more at my personal nostalgia - I was the kid grabbing my dad's camera and making little movies by myself because my friends weren't interested. ParaNorman had better use of 3D technology, but Frankenweenie was the more satisfying stop-motion showcase, as ParaNorman looked TOO cleaned up and sleek - I honestly thought it was CGI the first time I saw stills (and keep in mind, Frankenweenie's star was only a quarter of the size as the other characters - that's some incredible puppetry work). But why choose? At the end of the day, we got two horror-friendly stop motion films in a single year, both of which I'd be stoked to show my own kids someday.
6. Rec 3
Jaume Balagueró stepped away for this entry (he'll be back for 4), leaving it all in the hands of Paco Plaza, who proved to be smarter than the folks behind the Paranormal Activity sequels by not doing the same goddamn thing we've seen a few times already. 15 minutes in, the camera is dropped and we switch to a traditional filmmaking style, but Plaza goes a step further by adding Dead Alive-style comedy and excess gore. A polarizing entry to be sure, but I loved that they still made a true sequel (the outbreak here is caused by a guy who was bitten by the dog from the first film) while giving us something completely fresh and (for me) entertaining as all hell.
One of two Coen-influenced films on the list, but this time a home invasion story that works like gangbusters, thanks to terrific casting for its two leads: Georgina Haig, who perfectly nails the fine line between potential damsel and asskicking heroine, and George Shevtsov as The Stranger, who could just as easily be playing a kindly grandfather but is absolutely terrifying as the film's villain. The score is incredible, and there are a couple of sequences that literally had me forgetting to breathe. In my opinion, the best film released under the Bloody Disgusting Selects series.
4. Sleep Tight (Mientras Duermes)
Dark Sky showed some cojones releasing this one (even theatrically!) without cuts; I'm not sure anything I've seen all year is as creepy and unsettling as the film's opening sequence, and it's not even the most disturbing part. That we had a really terrible version of a similar story recently (Hammer's The Resident) just made it all the more impressive, and further cemented Jaume Balagueró as one of the best genre filmmakers of this generation.
I've been reviewing horror movies for over six years now, and one thing that I find myself repeating often is that I never really consider whether or not a movie scares me when judging its merit. Either because I've been desensitized from watching them at an early age, or merely being more awesome than those who shriek every time someone shuts their bathroom cabinet only to see someone standing behind them in the reflection, I just don't get scared easily. Well, Sinister made me legit jump two or three times, and I was continually surprised from its opening scene nearly all the way to its last, where we suddenly found ourselves in a _______ film - always a wonderful surprise when I don't know what I'm in for from the first scene.
2. Rabies (Kalevet)
This Israeli effort from 2010 was given a US release this year courtesy of Sony, and I am forever grateful to them. Like Cabin, it's best to go in blind, but if I were to say "The Coen Brothers version of a slasher movie," hopefully that would entice instead of spoil. A terrific surprise from the writing/directing team of Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado.
1. Cabin In The Woods
If this was released on time, it could have been my favorite movie of 2010, but that's all behind us now. Lionsgate wisely rescued this amazing, incredibly creative film from MGM's vault, and the genre will forever be the stronger for it. Required viewing for any horror fan... and also for any horror hater who wants to know why so many of those films play out the same way. Bless you, Drew Goddard - please make more movies soon.
Honorable Mention: We Need To Talk About Kevin
This made a lot of 2011 lists, but I didn't get a chance to see it until 2012, so I'm giving it an honorary slot. Recent events will understandably make the film even more disturbing for some, but as a fan of "evil child" movies, I loved the unique approach, where it almost feels like a sequel to that kind of film, focusing on the mother (a terrific Tilda Swinton) of a child who did some horrible things (revealed slowly via flashbacks) as she tries to put her life back together and find some peace while living in a town full of people who hate her. More drama than horror, it's still one of the most unnerving films of this or any other year.