Some say that 2013 was a bad year for horror, but I beg to differ. In fact, I found it difficult to narrow down my list to a modest top ten, and wound up listing nearly half as many honorable mentions as actual contenders. Despite this struggle, I believe that many people will still complain that there are worthy pictures that did not make this list, and rightly so. 2013 was a wonderful year for horror, and if anything, it showed the astounding potential that the genre has for the future. Without further ado, here are my top ten horror movies of 2013.
Technically, this film was made in 2012 in Ireland, but it wasn’t released in the States until 2013, so I say it deserves a spot on my top ten list. When a prank at a child’s birthday party goes horribly wrong, Stitches the clown winds up dead. Years later, when the same boy, Tom, tries to host another celebration of his day of birth, Stitches returns to wreak havoc on those who sent him to the grave.Ross Noble is side-splittingly hilarious as the clown who never got to finish his party. Every moment he’s onscreen is pure gold. Filled with innovative gags and blood-soaked misfortune, STITCHES proves to be one of the funniest, most outrageous horror comedies in recent memory.
9. YOU’RE NEXT
It’s been a long while since someone did a truly exciting, pulse-pounding home invasion thriller. Just when we horror fans were about to give up on the sub genre, in comes writer Simon Barrett and director Adam Wingard, the dynamic duo that brought us such gems as V/H/S, V/H/S/2, and A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE. With a gritty late ’70s, early ’80s feeling, masked miscreants, and a kickass female lead, YOU’RE NEXT may be the best home invasion film since STRAW DOGS (1971). Instead of the usual helpless victims begging for their lives, Erin, played by the talented Sharni Vinson, takes on more of a HOME ALONE approach to dealing with these perpetrators, and the result is a highly-entertaining, stand-out genre film. I found the ending a little predictable, but I thoroughly enjoyed the ride.
8. BAD MILO
Remember how happy GREMLINS made you the first time you ever watched it? And every time thereafter? Director Jacob Vaughn certainly recalls this love for practical effects and superb puppetry, and his newest creation, Milo, is evidence of his passion. The hilarious concept of an ass demon that lives within the intestines of Duncan (Ken Mariano), is so well done that at times, this disgusting, violent creature actually seems cute. Not only is Milo adorable, but he is extremely refreshing in a world that’s filled to the brim with lazy, CGI-filled movies, where nothing feels real. Vaughn understands the balance of practical and digital effects, and uses this knowledge to create a hilarious, heartfelt throwback to the days when actors could react honestly, because they were seeing the same character as the audience.
There’s nothing more terrifying than the life inside a pregnant mother in a horror film. That is, of course, unless that mother never wanted to give birth in the first place. In PROXY, a woman named Esther attends group therapy after the loss of her unborn child, where she meets a new companion named Melanie. As the two begin to bond, Esther discovers that no matter how close you feel to someone, no one can ever truly be trusted. Joe Swanberg gives one his best performances to date, and director Zack Parker shows that he’s ready to join the masters of suspense, in this gritty, utterly uncomfortable, shocking slow burn.
What happens when our fascination with celebrities reaches a point of pure obsession? It’s not enough to simply style our hair like our favorite musician, or wear the same clothes as the women who walk the red carpet. To be truly in touch with those we admire, we would need to feel what they feel, and the best way to do that is to infect ourselves with the diseases they carry. Caleb Landry Jones is hauntingly brilliant as Syd, the salesman who is just as obsessed with his merchandise as his consumers. When he becomes infected with the same illness that killed his beloved Hannah Geist, he must find the cure before he dies too, whether it be from the virus, or those wishing to attain its glory.
It’s not very often that one can argue that a sequel exceeds its predecessor, but such is the case for V/H/S/2. Each short is stronger than before, with a wrap-around feature that is much more solid and easier to comprehend. In my opinion, Gareth Evans and Timo Tjahjanto’s segment, “Safe Haven”, is the best of the bunch, but they are all uniquely entertaining in their own way.
4. AMERICAN MARY
This may not be Jen and Sylvia Soska’s first horror feature, but it is certainly the most intriguing yet. When pre-med student Mary Mason discovers that she can earn far more money in the black market than in the OR, she begins chasing her own American dream — that of capitalistic success through the use of body mortification. This insightful inquiry into the world of unusual piercings and various surgeries is exciting because it sheds light on a new aspect of horror in a nearly uncharted territory that many avoid. Also, simply put, it’s always nice to see a female lead dishing out harm rather than taking it, and Katharine Isabelle knows how to dish it in style.
3. THE LORDS OF SALEM
Many avid Rob Zombie fans hate this film, and in a way, it’s easy to understand why. Instead of his usual trademark redneck, foul-mouthed Southern characters and staple shaky cam, Zombie opted for a slow-paced, psychological, steadi-cam old school thriller, much to the dismay of his usual band of followers. I, myself, am a huge Zombie fan, but I feel like this is his most accomplished film yet. Features like ROSEMARY’S BABY, THE SHINING, and THE HOLY MOUNTAIN come to mind whenever I watch this movie, and creating a film that’s reminiscent of such daunting titles is nothing short of an overwhelmingly profound achievement. For those who saw it and didn’t like it, I beg you to give it a second chance. For those who haven’t seen it at all, please do so immediately.
Just when you thought the premise of MANIAC couldn’t get any creepier, along comes Elijah Wood. Today’s remakes are mostly disappointing, unfortunately, but Aja Alexandre’s 2013 interpretation of his 1980 cult classic arguably surpasses the original film. Wood forgoes Joe Spinell’s grisly, disgusting performance, and instead plays a more subtle, disturbingly normal attitude for a mass murderer. Both takes on the character are extremely frightening, but it was nice to see Wood and the cast take a different approach instead of simply copying what’s already been done. Wood’s depiction of Frank is unsettling because he seems like someone we all know; someone we might even already call a friend. The fact that he seems so well adjusted just before he comes unhinged every night is what makes this take so scary. Also, the handheld camera is so beautifully done that it feels like the high art version of a sleazy, gritty classic. Not only is the direction and acting superb, but the score is absolutely riveting. MANIAC isn’t just one of the best films of the year, but one of the top horror flicks in the past decade.
If you’re a fan of Park Chan-wook’s OLDBOY, SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE, LADY VENGEANCE, or any of his other works, then you know that Mr. Park sets a whole new standard for filmmaking. His newest feature, STOKER, is no exception. Influenced heavily by Alfred Hitchcock’s SHADOW OF A DOUBT, STOKER follows the path of a young girl named India, as she deals with the passing of her father, and her mother’s eagerness to forget him. When her Uncle Charlie comes to stay with the family after the funeral, India begins to find the lies of her past unraveling before her, and learns more about her family and herself than she could have ever dreamed possible. Mia Wasikowska is utterly unnerving as India, the girl who tries to accept herself, despite her wicked mother (Nicole Kidman)’s numerous attempts to change her. Nicole Kidman is terrific, too, as the widow who will do anything to escape her grief, even if it means finding comfort in the arms of her late husband’s brother. The score is simply incredible, as it is with any of Park’s films, and the direction is nothing short of incredible. Here’s a film that will leave you discussing every use of symbolism, each uncomfortable conversation, and every triumphant shot by the master filmmaker Park for days after its viewing.
The Sacrament is a terrific illustration of what can happen when a charismatic leader uses his powers of persuasion for evil. The only reason it did not appear in my top ten list is because technically, it won’t be released until 2014.
IT’S A DISASTER
I’m shocked that this film has seemingly gone unnoticed by most genre fans. Written and directed by Todd Berger, this tale about the end of times is one that (gasp) doesn’t rely on zombies, but rather, chemical warfare. Because the end of the world is brought about intentionally by humans, the story feels utterly realistic, tragic, and relatable. As a group of friends try to decide how to spend their last few hours together, discomfort, honesty, and hilarity ensues. I’m not sure I would call it a horror film, so I can’t put it in my top ten, but it’s definitely worth checking out.
BIG BAD WOLVES
How can you ever really know if someone is telling the truth? Sure, you can ask politely, but compulsive liars will always hide their true self. You can try to hurt a person until they come clean, but sooner or later, whether he or she is innocent or guilty, that person will admit to any crime to free themselves of pain. So, when a man loses his daughter to a murdering pedophile, will abusing the man he suspects really turn out in his favor? Or is he just as inhumane as the dark soul that stole his offspring? If this film weren’t released in 2014, it would be in my top three. Please, go see this brilliant feature as soon as possible.
How far would you go to preserve your life? What about the well being of your family? Director E.L. Katz seeks to answer this difficult proposition, through the use of money and morals. With a stellar cast, including Pat Healy, Ethan Embry, David Koechner, and Sara Paxton, this black comedy begs the question, “how much debauchery can we participate in without changing who we are?”