Tuesday, March 4, 2014

2013: Top 10 DVD Releases

Despite last year's promise to revive Horror Dose, I slacked off even more than the year before, and, in my usual fashion, I've recently caught the bug again and found a renewed passion for blogging about my obsession. There are many reasons I've slacked off since starting the site in 2009: grad school, baby, new job, and so on--but my my passion for horror films has remained constant. Before posting new reviews here in 2014, however, tradition holds that I list my top 10 releases from last year.

10. Evil Dead 

Evil Dead
"The most terrifying film you will ever experience"? Well, not really; but I do give the marketing team points for using the word "experience" instead of "see," implying, of course, that this film will assault you on more fronts than just your vision. For true fans of Raimi's cult classic, I would say steer clear and let the original continue to delight you (yes, I'm well aware that Raimi was supposedly heavily involved in this production and gave it his blessing). For a large portion of the beginning of the film, I couldn't tell if this was a remake or a continuation of the first or what. Then, I got lost in the admittedly entertaining visual and audio stimulation of the movie. And by the end, I decided it is a fine movie in its own right--that is, if you can separate it from its predecessor.

9. Alyce Kills

Honestly, I was all set to hate this. It seemed to come out of nowhere, and nothing in the cast and crew or basic premise printed on the Netflix envelope sparked any level of curiosity. Yes, I watched this as more of a duty to the genre I love than anything. And perhaps because of my low (if at all existent) expectations, I found myself charmed by this little number. It is a quirky social commentary that kept me sucked in from start to finish. Huge points to Jade Dornfeld, whom I had never heard of, for deftly steering the lead role of this one.

8. The Frankenstein Theory

For whatever reason, I'm a sucker for these found-footage mockumentaries that follow a character's obsession with a mythological creature (Troll Hunter, Big Foot: The Lost Coast Tapes). They all have pretty much the same cast of characters and plot arc, but I suppose I just haven't seen enough of them (as opposed to the wealth of slashers I've seen) to jade me. Like the others, this one slowly builds up the suspense around a well-known, mythological character and ends with a beautifully orchestrated crescendo.

7. The ABCs of Death

I have acute ADD, so anthologies and short films are a welcome treat. Even with the horror genre mandate of a 90-minute standard runtime, it is often a chore. So along comes this little treat, which boasts names from another anthology (which has it's own external plot surrounding the short films), V/S/H. This flick serves up 26 diverse, unique, and entertaining short films, one for each of the letters in the English alphabet. The day after a colleague of mine watched it, he made a chart with 26 rows, printed off 2 copies, and we each tried to remember the title of each of the entries in the anthology (in the film, the titles of each short are shown at the end, which is fun because you quickly catch on and find yourself trying to guess what the title will be).

6. Thale

Judging by the cover art, the premise, and the source (Norway), I had no clue where this film would take me. Unfortunately, they didn't get as bananas as I suspected, and they didn't take it to places like, say, Splice (yet another movie I've seen but haven't reviewed), but within 25 minutes I was into the tone and pace of the movie, and by the end I felt that I had watched a fairly cerebral and artistic film for a plot based on a mythological creature from Nordic lore.

5. Stoker

I will watch absolutely anything by Chan-wook Park. Anything. Who couldn't be a fan of the guy who brought us: Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Lady Vengeance, Oldboy, a superb entry in the Three... Extremes anthology, and Thirst? I could be wrong, but I believe this was his English-language directorial debut. And it ended up being a very classy, artistic, and intellectual film, based on what was before an exhausted plot (something I think Twixt tried and failed to do). The composition, visual effects, and editing are to be relished. This one transcends the genre and will hopefully secure Park as a notable filmmaker here in the States.

4. The Bay

I admit that much of the charm of this movie came directly from Kether Donohue, another lead-role actress I'd never heard of. Performances like this, as in Jade Dornfeld in Alyce Kills and especially Gretchen Lodge in Lovely Molly, can carry a movie high above its otherwise weak or thin plot. In this case, we get a minimalist ecological thriller that could've left me unimpressed but for Donohue's perfect performance as the plain Jane reporter. Combined with a well-edited documentary/found-footage format, The Bay stuck with me for days.

3. Sinister

I really thought I was going to be a victim of the hype machine with this one. I can't count how many friends and other sources shoved this in my face as the "scariest movie they've ever seen" or one that "I will absolutely love." Each time, I tried to dismiss their praises of the film from my mind, so as not to build it up too much. In fact, I waited about 2 months after it released on Netflix (which is already pretty late by default) before I watched it, in order to let all the hype dissipate. Finally, I found myself in the perfect situation for watching a movie of this vein: alone at night in an empty house. And while it wasn't exactly scary, it was well executed and pretty creepy for a major production. I was spooked for the remainder of that lonesome, dark night.

2. The Lords of Salem 

The Lords of Salem
A love-it-or-hate-it release if ever there was one! Zombie can't seem to win over those fence-riders, and, in fact, of the people I talked to, he lost some fans on this one. Well, as you can see with it being my #2 pick for the year, I was quite taken by this off-beat flick. The composition, lighting, set design, and minimal score was reminiscent of old 80s flicks, especially Italian fare. And I cannot for the life of me get that eerie conjuring song out of my mind!

1. Magic Magic

Magic Magic
I'm still shocked that I picked this as #1. Indeed, most people seem to hate it, and I'm sure I will continue to question my choice from time to time as I look back over the years to remember what I found to be the best of the lot. But no matter how much I question myself, Magic Magic unarguably left the strongest impression on me. It has the style I love: slow, tense, subtle, paranoiac (think: The House of the Devil and The Ceremony). Juno Temple absolutely nails her role, and Michael Cera gives a head-turning performance for the same guy who played Evan in Superbad. The film is really bizarre, but in a reticent and psychological manner. With a quick shot of Jonathan Franzen's paperback, Freedom, which I had recently read, I couldn't help but see parallels in that each character is looking for freedom in his/her own way, but that quest inevitably affects the people around them. This film stands out in my mind to this day and it's just a matter of time before I sit down and revisit it.

Honorable Mentions

Sleep Tight

Sleep Tight
This was the first horror movies I watched last year, and it happened to be a pretty good little thriller. The opening scene in light of the subsequent unraveling of what's really going on is not to be missed.

V/H/S 2

How cool is that cover art? A skull made of strips of, well, VHS tape!

Dark Skies

Dark Skies
Another film that should've sucked but was pretty decent. Everything about this film, especially the title, pointed to lame. The first creature reveal won me over!

We Are What We Are (Mexican original)

We Are What We Are
Well-executed, tense family portrait that is more dramatic than horrific.

And that's it's. Here's to another year of horror in 2014!


  1. Good to see you back Chris I thought 2013 was a really poor year for horror so we timed the baby thing to perfection.

    Two films which I enjoyed (that are perhaps more thriller than horror) were "The Hidden Face" and "The Body (El Cuerpo)". Both Spanish language and both top class. Don't watch the trailers for either though, they contain massive spoilers.

  2. 2013 was indeed a year of slim horror pickings--it took me a while to muster this top 10 list. Even though I was pretty busy with other matters and this site suffered, I still managed to watch a fair amount of flicks.

    Thanks for the suggestions! I'm always looking for suggestions, especially outside of American studios. I've added both of yours to my queue, and I look forward to watching them. The only two Spanish-language movies I saw last year are WE ARE WHAT WE ARE (which has just been remade here in the States) and SLEEP TIGHT, which was decent.

    Thanks for stopping by, Challis!