Wednesday, December 14, 2011

THE BEST IN HORROR 2011


It’s that time of year, when movie critics start compiling their 10 Best lists. I'll compile mine as soon as I see all there is to see. (And God knows I'm still waiting for THE ARTIST, which was supposed to open here last weekend, but got pushed back 'til the 23rd. Sigh.) But for right now, I’m going to laud what I think was the best in horror this past year. In addition to writing this movie blog each week, I am also the horror movie critic for the Chicago Examiner online. (www.examiner.com) And I'm a big horror fan. So even though this is a movie blog, I'm going to note the high points of horror from this past year, on both the big screen and the small one. 

Here then are my first annual Scary’s. (Be afraid, Emmy’s and Tony’s. Be very afraid.)

The Scary for Best TV Horror
AMERICAN HORROR STORY is not only the best achievement in horror on TV this year, but for my money, it’s better than any scary movie I saw on the big screen in 2011. It’s not only pushed the limits of what TV can do, but what the horror genre can be anywhere. It’s a character-driven, dense and serious dissertation on what real evil is. And its horror is a million miles from the torture porn and buckets of blood still preoccupying big screen horror filmmakers. AMERICAN HORROR STORY knows that the real monsters are those who look like the family next door and yet are as vicious and horrible as any otherworldly creature. This is a haunted house tale, but all the ghosts stuffed into its eccentric LA home cannot compete with the mortals living in and around it: Dylan McDermott, Connie Britton & Taissa Farmiga as the twisted nuclear family, or Jessica Lange and Denis O’Hare as the interloping neighbors. And in a show that each week indicts some of America’s greatest homegrown villains, like the Manson girls or Richard Speck or those Columbine teens, that is really saying something. At first, I wondered how this show could go on week after week. Wouldn’t the family want to move out of such a dreadful place? But the more you watch, the more you realize, they’re perfect there. Hell, they’re home!
The Scary for Best Film Horror
One would not readily associate the name Pedro Almodovar with horror but this year he tread into the genre and walked away with the most disturbing frightfest of the year. His THE SKIN I LIVE IN is a modern day “Frankenstein” tale, deceptively beautiful and brightly lit, with all the lush, glamorous characteristics of Spain’s most famous filmmaker. But make no mistake, this story is not a pretty picture. It’s a tale of revenge and obsession. It’s about control, and the lengths one will go to attain it. Antonio Banderas plays the silky and suave plastic surgeon, willing to do all kinds of monstrous things to wield power. He keeps the beautiful Vera (Elena Anaya) trapped as a prisoner in his modern mansion, subjecting her to all forms of horrible medical experiments and procedures.  Towards the end of the film, the revelations of what he’s actually doing in the name of science are truly jaw-dropping. This movie shows that dark alleys and cobwebs aren’t needed to create horror. All that’s needed is one evil monster wreaking havoc, even if it’s one as handsome as Banderas.

The Scary for Best TV Horror Performance by an Actress
Jessica Lange gives a performance each week on AMERICAN HORROR STORY that is one part Blanche Dubois, one part Marilyn Monroe, and sprinkled with a generous helping of Carrie’s religious zealot mom. She plays Constance Langdon, the Southern belle and failed film ingénue who now spends her day inflicting harm on everyone in her web. She is the show’s greatest monster, throwing out vicious lines and smiling like the Chesire cat as she spews her bile. But despite the fact that Constance oozes sin, secrets and severity with each jaunty step, she is also a hurt little girl who was chewed up by Hollywood and spit out decades ago. Lange turns her into a tragic figure, one that can be seething, but is more often than not, rather sympathetic. She illustrates that those who know what hurt is deliver it best. Lange should win a lot of awards for this role. I’ll start by giving her my Scary for the year’s best female performance.


The Scary for Best Film Horror Performance by an Actor
The remake of FRIGHT NIGHT delighted me and that’s no small feat considering I am a huge fan of the original film from 1985. However, one of the things I liked even more in the new version here was the portrayal by Colin Farrell as Jerry, the vampire next door. He doesn’t play this vampire as a whispering ghoul, haunted by his never-ending existence. Instead he plays it like he's a kid who's delighted he gets to stay up all night, way past his bedtime. He’s loose, sly, a smile always forming at the corners of his mouth, he's like a car salesman who wants to get you in a blood red sports car. Farrell has become a really good actor, slipping off the leading man expectations plaguing him a decade ago. Here he’s enjoying playing a rich character, and as an actor, it makes him fearless and very funny. (This and his turn in HORRIBLE BOSSES made it a banner year for the Irishman.) Despite good reviews, this excellent horror film bombed at the box office. It’s now out on DVD, and you should check out this cheeky frightener featuring this luridly lovable performance by Farrell.

And now for some smaller, but still wonderfully horrific, Scary Awards:

The Scary for Best Score – Alberto Iglesias for THE SKIN I LIVE IN. Two great scores this year, his other being the one for TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY. Bravo, sir!

The Scary for Best Credit Sequence – AMERICAN HORROR STORY. The live babies are as scary as the dead ones in this minute of film that perfectly sets up the show's tone.


The Scary for Best Single Moment of Terror – INSIDIOUS. The shot above is what I'm talking about. See the movie and you'll jump out of your seat!

The Scary for Most Realistic Frightener – CONTAGION. I’m washing my hands 10 times a day now. At least. Thanks a lot, director Steven Soderbergh.

The Scary for Best Visual Effects – RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. It should be a lock for the Oscar too.

The Scary for Best Supporting Performance – Jennifer Carpenter on DEXTER. Deb is so good, she should have her own show. And Carpenter should have at least one Emmy.

The Scary for Best Horror Shorts  Fewdio.com Its short horror tales scare more in mere minutes than most full-length horror movies. Some in mere seconds. Amazing.

The Scary for Best Laughs in a Horror Movie – FRIGHT NIGHT. Though if we're talking unintentional laughs, then hands down it would have to be TWILIGHT: BREAKING DAWN, PART 1. What a horror that flick was, just not in the way they wanted it to be.

Well, that’s it for this year. It truly was a great year for horror on TV, what with AMERICAN HORROR STORY, THE WALKING DEAD and TRUE BLOOD. As for horror at the movies? Mmm, not so much. Frankly, I thought some of the GOP debates were more disturbing than most of this year’s horror films. I’m ready for some change we can believe in at the Cineplex. The New Year does look promising already though. The new UK trailer for THE WOMAN IN BLACK is incredibly eerie. Click this link and see what I mean. 

So I’m anxiously awaiting the new year. Scare me, 2012! 

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