A Year in Horror: 2013
by Eli Henry
2013 saw a pretty large influx of horror films, especially compared to the dry spell us horror fans have had for the last several years. Here's your run-down on the good, the bad, and the mediocre. First, the bad...
TEXAS CHAINSAW (3D)
This movie made me want to hurt something. There is a very simple formula to follow in order to make a simple a run-of-the-mill Texas Chainsaw Massacre movie (why'd the "Massacre" part of the title even get dropped? probably to distance the franchise from this turd), which I acknowledge is not something many movies should strive for. This movie breaks from that mould, and not in a fun, unexpected way. Texas Chainsaw is a movie that should definitely have strived for mediocrity. This movie had zero scares, didn't fit into a realistic timeline (it follows a character who was a baby in the first film, which takes place in 1974, who is now a young adult... in 2013), and ended up making Leatherface a (literally) retarded hero. Just writing this makes me want to smash the keyboard for giving this movie any more exposure.
PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4
Ah, Paranormal Activity. It's important to note before going into this mini-review that I am not a fan of found-footage movies. I liked Chronicle, REC, and Diary of the Dead, and for the most part, that's it. Now, Paranormal Activity in particular is a franchise that I specifically have some slight disdain for, and I've actually heard people go as far as to say that the Paranormal Activity and SAW franchises are this generation's Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th. In a good way. I counter this statement with one point: SAW and PA didn't even start out being good in the first place, so they can't take the spot of Nightmare on Elm Street or Friday the 13th, which both had at least a few good films in them. This PA film in particular, however, is the epitome of the worst parts of the series: unlikable cast members, convoluted storyline, slow build-up (which in general I'm a fan of, which should tell you something), and an unsatisfying conclusion that will leave you reeling not due to some sort of skillfully crafted revelatory moment, but rather because its complete thoughtlessness in placement is aggravating.
Of the entries I'm likely going to get the biggest flack for, this may be the largest. I'm a longtime fan of Guillermo Del Toro, so hearing that he was financing a supernatural horror film was great news, and then getting a great trailer for said film (which had an intriguing and original premise) made things all the better. The film itself was even good... up until they actually showed the titular "Mama" pretty early in. The character design of "Mama" had something very off-putting about it, likely the CGI parts of it, which ended up looking very phony, and left me yearning for the practical effects of years past. The movie itself remains very dry in terms of character development, in my opinion, and I found the ending (and subsequent sequel announcement) dissatisfying.
INSIDIOUS PART 2
Insidious Part 2 was a good movie. It really was. Director James Wan is very skilled in creating an effectively creepy atmosphere in his films, and this is no exception. However, Insidious Part 2 is on this list because while the acting and atmosphere are engaging, the story and scares this time around in this entry in the budding franchise are lacking. This is partly because the story this time 'round is much more focused on things happening to the Lambert parents' relationship, or so it seems. In reality, the story in this film is much more focused on Specs and Tucker, the paranormal research duo (a little too much, in my opinion, the film slowly began to spin closer to comedy until the last half hour or so of the film), and the Lambert family's growing anxiety surrounding the invading ghosts in their new home. On one hand, less scares are to be expected due to the requirements of the story, but on the other hand, scares are what the original film delivered, and what this one needed to follow-through on.
This was a good year for good-but-not-great movies in general, but horror movies really caught the brunt of it, in my opinion, that's why this section of this article has the most entries. The Purge was a truly great and original concept, with good casting, and a good amount of violence, even. However, the problem with this film (as many other critics have pointed out as well) is that the concept wasn't capitalized on. Instead of bringing audiences to the chaos for the lower-and-middle-class that is the "purge", we only see it from the inside of an upper-class, fortified household, turning this film into just another home invasion movie (which I normally don't detest).
WORLD WAR Z
World War Z was an amazing book that could've made for an amazing movie, but instead the adaptation lacked use of the source material and went for PG-13 (which, while in the film particular didn't grossly affect the viewing experience, had they adapted the book in a stricter manner, PG-13 would decidedly not cover it).
While the film-makers ask for Carrie to be considered a new adaptation of the source material (the freshman novel by the legendary Stephen King) as opposed to a remake, comparisons are obviously going to be comparisons drawn between the two films (no, I'm not counting the made-for-TV remake, or the Broadway musical). The main reason I found the original adaptation enjoyable was due to Sissy Spacek's almost supernatural performance as the titular character. She really seemed to be the somewhat-disturbing outcast that her fellow students believed her to be. In contrast, Chloe Grace Moretz is a current Hollywood A-lister, known for her attractiveness and acting prowess. However, while acting is incredibly important in a role such as Carrie White, looks mean something. I personally don't buy into Ms. Moretz being a social outcast. Outside of comparisons between the films, Julianne Moore's performance as Carrie's mother is amazing, however, I find Carrie's control over her powers to be unappealing, and the lack of updating the source material to modern times a little strange and hard to believe.
James Wan is good at what he does. Great, even. His direction and choice of scripts largely evoke the aesthetic of classic 70s and 80s horror films such as Amityville Horror and Stanley Kubrick's The Shining, and he has a finger right on the nerve of the audience, and proceeds to pluck it in some sort of eerie tune only he can understand. He has a career-running streak of great choice of actors, setting, coloring, very realistic effects, and that streak definitely does not end with The Conjuring. Scares abound (both built-up and sudden), character development is slow but swift, and perhaps the most impressive element of all is also the one that most horror films are severely lacking: James Wan is able to make the audience feel for the characters. We become tense as the children fall into danger, and outright anxious when we see their loving, previously skeptical parents become terrified as supernatural forces threaten their lives. The family portrayed is realistic, and the audience feels as scared as they do. While this film doesn't add anything new to the supernatural horror genre, it does its job better than 95% of them, and in my opinion deserves a spot here.
Like The Conjuring, You're Next doesn't add anything new to its genre, home invasion. However, also as with The Conjuring, it does its job incredibly well. You're Next is a very well-directed, and well-acted horror film, with a realistic family at the center, some twists and turns (which, I'll admit, the last of which was predictable), and some very pleasing death scenes. It's also interesting to see the tables turned on the attackers in their tiger, lamb, and fox masks (who themselves are very realistic and interesting villains). The film's soundtrack is very in line with John Carpenter's The Thing and Halloween scores in its simplicity, and use of a haunting keyboard. I'd go more in depth, but I would seriously hate to ruin any piece of this movie. Imagine Evil Dead filtered through The Strangers. That is You're Next.
And now, my favorite horror film of the year. The remake of Evil Dead takes the original film and very well transitions it into modern times (while also retaining a sequel-ish connection to the original film), while adding a new final act, some great twists, very good acting, very great practical effects-work, and homages to the original Evil Dead trilogy, while all the while feeling very fresh. Fede Alvarez does a great job directing, breaking genre conventions and crafting realistic and grounded characters to such an outlandish (though definitely not in a bad way) film. This remake is one of the only horror films to ever make me flinch, and in several places even!
Thanks for reading my year-end list! I hope you agree, and if not, sound-off below!