Top 10 Horror Films of 2011

by cohost Philip

December 28, 2011


I figured it was time to write an article for the website and what better time to do so then right at the end of the year when folks are coming out with top 10 lists of the best genre or horror fair from the past year. Some lists even include a quick glance at the worst or most disappointing films. For every good horror movie there has been plenty of bad ones indeed.

The main question is to define what is considered to be a 2011 film. For mainstream Hollywood it is quite simple. Any film released at the theater this year is, well, a 2011 film. But for one of our favorite genres like horror films, we have foreign films or indy picks that were released in 2010 but for us here in the States we weren’t able to get a peek at them until they came out on some sort of stream service or, preferably for me, dvd or blu-ray. Many of these films finally arrived in the States by the way of what is essentially considered straight-to-dvd in 2011 even if they have copyright dates from prior years. I, myself, therefore consider such films appropriate as consideration for the list.

Now the next thing is to determine what would be considered a horror film. Well, let’s put it bluntly, in 2010 folks put flicks such as Machete as one of their top horror films, and though being as well received as it was, it wasn’t horror, sorry. It’s grind house or exploitation but not horror. Though Dark Discussions loves to discuss everything genre, this list is just horror and horror only. So though such genre stretching flicks as Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Hobo With a Shotgun fit nicely within the framework of the website and podcast, they don’t make it on a list like this. With all that dense and defining designation of what this list will consist of, let me list off my most effective horror films of 2011.

#10 – Mindflesh (UK) So right from the start we have a film that is both foreign and technically not a film from 2011, but as a DVD it was presented to us back in January. A U.K. production directed by Robert Pratten and starring mostly unknowns, the film is visually surreal and filled with paranoia. Our main protagonist, a London cabbie, begins seeing visions of a beautiful women whom appears to be either ghostly or otherworldly in origins. Filled with body horror and beings from the beyond, comparisons to Stuart Gordon’s From Beyond, David Cronenberg’s The Fly, and the writings of H.P. Lovecraft are inevitable. Moments throughout, we, the audience, may actually think that everything is simply the mental breakdown of our protagonist yet this film doesn’t cheat us with this very much rehashed plot device. Instead we get a science fiction horror film that doesn’t cheap in the gore, the nudity, the sex, or the dread that we expect from the extreme wave of horror that has been lost within American cinema.

#9 – A Horrible Way To Die (USA) I didn’t know too much about this film when I began seeing it on store shelves yet it most certainly seemed like it was going to be similar to Stevan Mena’s Bereavement, another well done film about serial killers. My interest peeked when Cyrus from Spill mentioned that the director Adam Wingard has a new film Your Next already playing the festival circuit that may be even better than this one. A tale about a broken woman in her mid-thirties, A Horrible Way To Die focuses on the undertaking of her trying to rebuild a life after the discovery that her boyfriend was a serial murderer of young women. Alcoholic, depressed, and filled with self-hatred for not understanding how she could not have known that the man that she shared her life with was a monster, her story is crossed back and forth with her ex who has escaped from prison and may be heading back her way. Bleak, gritty, and artistic in its making, the film has a powerful draw on the viewer making the audience member want to turn away from the mess of the lives on screen yet oddly drawing us back to follow along even if we feel unclean as we watch.

#8 – X (Australia) Technically this Australian picture is more a thriller than a horror film, but Jon Hewitt, the director of the fantastic film Acolytes, presents us with a side of life that none of us would want to actually partake in. About to retire from the sex trade and leave for the city of Paris, a high priced escort plans one more high paying trick before leaving. She teams up with a streetwalker for the well paying job but afterwards a murder happens that has the girls on the run as unwanted witnesses. Unlike other films where the protagonist is at the wrong place at the wrong time, X piles on the desperation of the prostitutes and the life they lead. Having experienced our director’s prior film, X portrays life as something pretty meaningless and happiness as an unattainable aspiration. Full of shocking violence straight out of Scorcese and unclothed beauties straight out of an Eli Roth film, X tips the tables of the thriller into an experience worth viewing for any horror aficionado.

#7 – Stake Land (USA) By far the most mainstream film out of these top ten, Stake Land, unlike the rest of the films on this list, is pretty straightforward. With an unexplained apocalypse having turned the entire world into blood thirsty vampire monsters in the vein of the zombies from 28 Days Later, a man with no name (simply known as Mister) leads a group of rag tag stragglers from Pennsylvania to the Canadian frontier in hopes of finding a land safe from the plague. Though there are some stale themes like religious fundamentalists that seem to consider this all to be God’s wrath upon the sinners of the world, this movie mostly avoids the pitfalls of the “message movie” and brings us action when it is wanted and character development where it is needed. The director Jim Mickle co-wrote the film with lead actor Nick Damici. This is their second film together having only a few years prior given us the fantastic little horror film Mulberry Street.

#6 – Red, White, and Blue (USA) Though some would say otherwise based off the upcoming films on this list, this film is probably the most shocking and most disturbing of them all. Having two different themes that separate the film into different acts, one would think that half the film would have a lighter tone than the other. This however is not the case. With the desperation of such diseases as cancer and AIDS permeating the first half, with the self loathing and waste-of-life of the girl played by actress Amanda Fuller, with hefty dreams being nothing more than imaginary delusions, if the viewer hasn’t been shooed away yet, the second half will most certainly do the trick. What seems to be a dark drama not much unlike Midnight Cowboy turns into a revenge thriller of extraordinary viciousness. In a film where none of the characters are antagonists nor are they all that likeable, the director/screenwriter Simon Rumley craftily gets the viewer into caring about all involved even if what transpires on the screen is so distasteful.

#5 – Dream Home (Hong Kong) A very interesting film, Dream Home should not be mistaken with the Daniel Craig film Dream House. Probably more so than anywhere else in the world, the city of Hong Kong may be the hardest place in the world to live a normal middle class life that most everyone would at the least hope for. Our protagonist , and that term is used very loosely, is a young single mother who works two jobs while struggling to find a life in a city that is the playground for the wealthy. When the apartment that she is about to purchase suddenly is out of her price range, she goes on a rampage that seems to be quite illogical only to be discovered to be as premeditated and well thought out as some of the worst crimes in history. Filled with blood, nudity, sex, and dark humor, Dream Home is a throwback to the best exploitation films from the past. While hiding in the back alleys of grind house fair, the movie has much to say about the disenfranchised and how dreams are really no more than the act of survival itself.

#4 – Kidnapped (Spain) Incredibly unexpected, this film only recently released in the states, was one of the most unforgiving films of the entire year. The theme seems pretty standard. A family of three move into a wealthy contemporary home in the suburbs of Madrid only to have their tranquil life be interrupted by a home invasion. What makes this film stand out compared to similar fair is that the events that occur happen not because of bad luck but due to circumstances that unravel as the movie progresses. The protagonists most certainly act stupidly and unwisely at almost every turn throughout the film however the characterizations of the family make everything they do appear convincing. The violence is ruthless and the human degradation extreme but director Miguel Ángel Vivas and co-writer Javier García don’t cheat the intelligence of the film audience.

#3 – Black Death (UK) Christopher Smith is arguably one of the most talented and most loyal genre directors in film today. Having directed such horror movies as Creep, Severance, and Triangle, his latest film shows that he is like a doppelganger where he can switch from subgenre to subgenre with ease. Black Death, a nihilistic and dark drama, takes place in the mid-1300’s during the Dark Ages while the Black Plague spreads across Europe killing every third person. Sean Bean leads a stellar cast as a group of soldiers doing “God’s work” who head out to a mysterious village that has been spared the fatality brought by the disease. Rumor has it that a necromancer has made a pact with Satan to ward off the suffering of the village that the rest of England has had to endure. Similar to his other works, Christopher Smith’s Black Death presents itself as one thing only to end up as something completely unexpected. With what appear to be supernatural elements, the film spirals into a revenge film that leads to a conclusion that only fits the stubbornness of the human mind.

#2 – I Saw the Devil (South Korea) A running joke by film critics is that South Korea produces two and a half hour revenge films and nothing else. Though that is far from true, I Saw the Devil, the newest film by director Ji-woon Kim, fits that stereotype without forgetting to cross its t’s and dot its i’s. When a serial killer randomly murders the fiancée of a police detective, the detective seeks retribution for his loss. What makes this film stand out is that our protagonist slowly has his vengeance turn him into the very thing that he himself wants to stop. Screenwriter Hoon-jung Park flips the subgenre on its head by making the film’s antagonist the lead. Comparisons to the Clint Eastwood film Dirty Harry are not unwarranted but unlike that film, I Saw the Devil relishes in extremes without shying away from its brutality.

#1 – A Serbian Film (Serbia) Before brushing off this film as ghastly and repugnant , one should stop and analyze the screenplay. Though this movie isn’t for everyone as probably all the films listed on this top 10 (excluding perhaps Stake Land and Black Death), unlike some of the prior films, this one is truly a literary masterpiece. To say this film isn’t a well crafted dark drama would be like saying Star Wars isn’t Space Opera. A Serbian Film would fit perfectly alongside Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem For A Dream, Richard Eyre’s Notes on a Scandal, and John Schlesinger’s Midnight Cowboy in its darkness and bleakness of the human condition. Unlike those films, however, this film tackles controversial subjects in the way the French Extreme subgenre has in the past decade. As a people, Serbians are most certainly happy to have left the twentieth century behind filled with its suppression by Turks, Austrians, Hungarians, Russians, and Germans. Forced into a compulsory union with other nations under a communist dictatorship within Yugoslavia, whether one wants to believe director Srđan Spasojević and co-writer Aleksandar Radivojević that the film is an allegory about the suffering of Serbia or any repressed people does not matter because as a cinematic experience A Serbian Film is one of the best.