Today, our “best of 2012″ turns to Jeff Allard. Jeff has been writing for us for quite a while and I respect his work, moreover, his opinion. If you’ve been following our year-end lists this week, you might have noticed a pattern in our selections. Well, Jeff is here to break things up. We’ll begin with his “honorable mentions.” Head inside for his “top 5.” - Ryan Turek, Managing Editor
Honorable Mentions: Shark fans should give Bait a look as it’s one of the best examples of the shark sub-genre; The Collection was the gnarliest slasher pic of the year; Tim Burton made one of his best recent films with Frankenweenie, a true love letter to Monster Kids; and although it probably would’ve worked better as an installment of an anthology show as the story felt padded out to feature length, Sinister nonetheless achieved some of the year’s best scares.
I have to say, I was not that taken with Cabin in the Woods initially. Even now, I still have serious issues with it as I don’t think it bears scrutiny as a commentary on horror films. For instance, when we see a control room full of mostly middle aged adults standing before big screen monitors watching teens and young adults enduring the usual agonies that characters suffer in horror movies and cheering it when they meet their fates, it’s supposed to be analogous to how the horror audience watches – and feeds off of – the almost ritualized formulas of the genre. But yet the core crowd for horror films is young people who have, generation after generation, shown a natural appetite for watching members of their own peer group perish on screen so as a meta-critique on horror’s bloodthirsty appeal, the whole age vs. youth dynamic of Cabin is out of joint. But what I do appreciate about Cabin is its quirky attention to detail, courtesy of screenwriter Joss Whedon and co-screenwriter and director Drew Goddard. This is the rare modern movie, genre or otherwise, that truly demands multiple viewings. More importantly in Cabin’s plus column, though, are its monsters. By now it shouldn’t be a spoiler to say that a vast cavalcade of creatures appears in Cabin’s last half hour and this uncanny onslaught is enough to make me put aside my various misgivings about the film. As much as I think many aspects of Cabin are flawed or just plain wrong-headed, I don’t have it in my heart to hate a movie that features a death by unicorn. In fact, I feel obliged to embrace it.
No, it’s not a horror film but it’s got splatter to spare and that’s enough to get included on this list. This second attempt at adapting the cult favorite comic character (the first, of course, being the 1995 film with Sylvester Stallone in the title role) was the year’s biggest surprise to me. If anyone had told me at the start of 2012 that another Dredd film would kick unholy amounts of ass, I sure wouldn’t have believed them. But all credit to director Pete Travis, screenwriter/producer Alex Garland, and star Karl Urban for doing right by Dredd. This might not have scored big at the box office, unfortunately, but I count it as one of my favorite theatrical experiences of 2012. Comparisons have been made to the brutally brilliant Indonesian film The Raid but there’s room for more than one film where outnumbered protagonists have to fight their way through an apartment complex populated with hostile opponents. 2012 was a huge year for comic book adaptations but while Dredd didn’t have a fraction of the box muscle of its more high profile competitors, from an adaptation standpoint it was a truly Hulk-sized achievement.
#3 The Pact
Since the first Paranormal Activity back in 2009, supernaturally themed fright flicks have been doing brisk business. As followers of the genre know, most of these films have been of the “found footage” variety. Even this year’s Sinister incorporated a found footage element, even though the majority of the film was traditionally shot. The Pact, the first feature from writer/director Nicholas McCarthy, breaks clean away from the found footage fetish, telling the eerie story of a young woman named Annie (Caity Lotz, in an impressive performance) who returns to her childhood home after the death of her mother and the mysterious disappearance of her sister and has to search for answers, even as she must contend first hand with inexplicable events in her mother’s home. Although a sympathetic cop (Casper Van Dien) and a spooky physic (Haley Hudson) step in to help, ultimately it’s up to Annie to put any old ghosts to rest. Lotz’s Annie is the best heroine to grace a horror film in ages, exuding a refreshingly real world sense of toughness, and on the scare front, The Pact is a big winner – it’s easily the most terrifying film of 2012.
Some were sorely disappointed by Ridley Scott’s return to the world of Alien. But whether a better, longer cut of Prometheus would be possible or whether the film’s problems are too rooted in the script to solve, the theatrical version of Scott’s film is still an astonishing piece of work. For me, the complaints regarding logic gaffes and questionable character motivations are easily sidelined. If I can overlook the fact that Ripley was such a dipshit in Alien that she risked her life to go back to get the cat, I can overlook whatever dumb crap the characters in Prometheus pull. Scott is second to none when it comes to world building and Prometheus shows full evidence of that. Beyond the visual splendor and the philosophically questioning narrative (which some cynics wrote off as simplistic but which I found provocative and even moving), Michael Fassbender’s riveting turn as the android David made for one of the best performances of 2012.
Unlike Carrie White, Pauline (AnnaLynne McCord) – the teen lead in Excision – isn’t merely a socially stunted wallflower. And unlike Winona Ryder’s Veronica Sawyer in Heathers, Pauline isn’t a smart but alienated outsider. No, she’s legitimately deranged, an undiagnosed psychopath with ambitions to be a surgeon. This would be bad news in and of itself but as Pauline’s home life involves a strictly religious mother (Traci Lords), a meek and ineffectual father (Roger Bart), and a sister (Ariel Winter) suffering with cystic fibrosis, the potential for an awful outcome is dangerously high. Writer/director Richard Bates, Jr. doesn’t veer away from that, making Excision a ruthlessly dark horror comedy that will test the endurance of most viewers. Pauline is a monstrous person, someone so troubled they should be institutionalized (as her mother says, she’s “impossible to love”), but McCord imbues her with enough humanity to make her tragic actions that much more appalling as cries for love and attention. Emotionally twisted and grotesquely beautiful (with its trippy dream sequences recalling Ken Russell), Excision is the year’s best horror film.
For more “Best Of” lists: Ryan’s Picks, Tyler’s Picks, Spencer’s Picks