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NIGHTMARE ROYALE #9: Skipp’s Favorite 12-Anna-Half Horror Films of 2013

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Well, hell. Everybody’s doin’ it! So here to cap off Year One of Nightmare Royale — and what a lovely goddam year it’s been — is my little contribution to the year-end pileup of heartily-recommended faves.

For me, 2013 was neatly bifurcated between grim meditations and hilarious romps. This makes me incredibly happy, cuz I think that’s precisely how it should be. As such, there are several you may not consider “horror”. But fuck that. I calls ‘em as I sees ‘em.

Because I love every single one of these films, for their own special reasons, I’m doing them in alphabetical order. I don’t have a favorite. I have THIS MANY FAVORITES. And I hope you enjoy them, too!

BIG ASS SPIDER!

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I’ve written extensively about why this is my favorite Giant Insect movie of all time. (See NR# 4.) But in brief: this is the movie you wish Joe Dante was making right now, because that’s exactly how rigorous and fun it is.

Director Mike Mendez and his phenomenal cast bring the antidote to all the optimistically-titled Syfy Channel movies you hoped you’d enjoy, and sat all the way through, thinking, “Fuck! I wish I’d liked that thing!”

For all of you who know what I’m saying, I’ve got three little words. BIG ASS SPIDER! It delivers the groceries and then some, with two genuinely terrifying scenes just to remind you how what expert horror feels like, before unleashing more of the best-earned laughs in all of horror history.

BYZANTIUM

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Somewhere between making INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE and the tail-end of the TWILIGHT phenomenon, virtuoso director Neil Jordan evidently realized that he’d better jump back on the bandwagon. And the fact that this exquisite, nuanced, non-shiny vampire tale fell through the cracks must have been a heartbreaker for all involved. God only knows how much money it lost.

I’ll tell you what, though. I think it’s gonna find its fans, as TWILIGHT readers and viewers mature. Seeking deeper and more, they will stumble across it, and go, “Omigod. This is greatness.” Because it is.

So deeply felt and impeccably layered, BYZANTIUM is the first film since LET THE RIGHT ONE IN that made me give a shit about sensitive vampires. It’s utterly gorgeous, and a genuine work of art, with a whole lot of blood and heart. I hope all the dark kids catch on.

COMPULSION

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Speaking of staying young and beautiful forever: what the fuck is going on with Heather Graham? After what seems like forever without her, she shows up in this completely-under-the-radar twisted black comedy/psychological horror film, SO STAGGERINGLY BEAUTIFUL that it’s almost uncanny. If only Marilyn Monroe had gotten roles like this!

Graham stars as the deranged gourmet wannabe host of her own cooking show: an ultimate foodie, her whole life revolving around culinary prep and execution. This is a singular and savory psychosis, with a multi-species body count. Who’s fair game? Ask Kevin Dillon. He’ll be pissed. But I had a really good time.

GRABBERS

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You wanna talk about the world’s juiciest setup? TRY THIS! Several voracious, multi-tentacled aliens crash-land on a tiny island off the coast of Ireland, and embark on a hellacious killing spree.

The only good news is, they’re deathly allergic to alcohol. Which means that the only way to stay alive is to get shit-faced drunk, and stay that way. Which — this being Ireland — works out pretty well! (Unless they kill you anyway.)

Like BIG ASS SPIDER! and JOHN DIES AT THE END (up next), this movie is so fucking funny and charming, beautifully cast down to the smallest roles, impeccably directed and astoundingly monsterific that I couldn’t have loved it more if it blew me in the theater. THREE THUMBS UP!!!

JOHN DIES AT THE END

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The first unmitigatedly great film I saw this year, so my recollection is a little bit foggy. But this is full-blown Bizarro/horror/sf/off-the-charts weirdness, and director Don Coscarelli’s finest hour-anna-half by far, transcending even PHANTASM and BUBBA HO-TEP on his way to the cult horror stratosphere.

All I can say for sure is, this movie was higher than I was when I watched it. And I was pretty goddam high. It features a psychedelic drug called Soy Sauce that — like the glasses in THEY LIVE — reveals the comically Lovecraftian horror underlying our existence. The delirium is nonstop. And my love for it is primo, uncut.

THE LORDS OF SALEM

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Back at the dark and disturbing side of the spectrum comes the purest whiff of genuine, intoxicating evil that cinema unleashed this year. And I mean that in the very best way.

I love THE LORDS OF SALEM. Flat-out love it. Have watched it three times. Can’t wait to watch it again. And not because I’m made of evil, or am rooting for evil to win.

This is the artful, gorgeous, heartfelt horror film I’ve been waiting for Rob Zombie to make. Having blown through his redneck phase (which I loved) and his Hollywood remake dance (which must have been as painful for him as it was for us, but has some awesome shit in it), he has come out the other side with a pure expression of all that great nightmare cinema can do.

To me, it’s impossible to miss the deep embrace of guys like Ken Russell, Stanley Kubrick, and Roman Polanski in every frame. Whether he hit their genius level or not is not the point (and I would argue that he hits pretty close). The point is, he aims for it, with breathtaking visuals, a wonderful cast that throws down hard, and a stunning depth that deepens every single time I see it.

I understand that taking an internet dump on Rob Zombie has become a national pastime. But I can’t get with that party. I fucking love this movie, and deeply respect his choices here.

That said: you might wanna be stoned and attentive. It’s very much that kind of film.

MAMA

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Two little girls get taken out to the boonies to get killed by their losing-his-shit-and-taking-his-loved-ones-with-him selfish corporate asshole father. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it), fate intervenes in the form of a spectral matriarch whose love means death for all who attempt to come close.

Beautiful, sad, creepy, and profoundly atmospheric, this is the only horror film this year to make me openly weep like a baby. Consider that an immense endorsement. And sorry if you didn’t like the ending, cuz it totally worked for me!

MANIAC

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I did not expect to be so completely swept up by this remake of a movie I didn’t love to begin with. The original MANIAC was a vintage slice of greasy New York psychosis that I respected more than enjoyed. And while I can’t see that “enjoy” is exactly what I did here, I thought it was sumptuous, highly-disturbing first-rate cinema.

I strongly recommend you check out the special features on this, to see how they handled the extraordinary first-person psychovision. It’s trickier than you think, and as obsessively rigorous as its subject matter. And the Michael McCarty-led KNB fx segment is a master class in awesome. (I do, however, think that Giorgio Moroder deserves a paycheck for the soundtrack, since one of its awesome signature cues is lifted almost verbatim from Paul Schrader’s CAT PEOPLE.)

ONLY GOD FORGIVES

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Let me put it to you this way. I saw this on a triple-bill with THE LORDS OF SALEM (above) and STOKER (below). And if STOKER is horror, then this stunningly hypnotic Bangkok meditation on the evil that men and women do unquestionably is one, too.

It has some of the year’s most shattering violence, my favorite color scheme by far, and ectoplasmically drips with the ghosts of people who haven’t even died yet. (The most haunted ghosts of all.) An extraordinary achievement in darkness.

And with that, I rest my case.

STOKER

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Any award for Best Director — in any genre, or none at all — that doesn’t include this extraordinary achievement in the running instantly declares itself a sham. Chan-wook Park knocks this one out of the Chan-wook Park, using the sheer art of cinema to take us deep into this twisted psychosexual family drama with a body count exclusively and profoundly human.

There are shots and cuts and dissolves in here that delineate the emotional states of these incredibly-damaged people better than any script could. (Brushing Nicole Kidman’s hair into the long sweep of forest, anyone?) And the script is phenomenal, as are all of the performances.

Flat-out: it’s a masterpiece, and (to my mind) makes his phenomenal OLDBOY look like a warm-up act. It may not be my actual favorite of the year, but I’d like to suggest that it is probably the best.

THIS IS THE END

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It’s easy to dismiss this celebrity self-indulge-o-thon as precisely that. But MY GOD, is it funny and self-aware! I’m pretty sure that I never stopped laughing, as these Hollywood egos took the piss out of themselves by pissing all over each other, and pandemoniously cackled all the way. I fucking loved it, and am proud of them for it. My favorite kind of Hollywood-on-Hollywood film. And a swell monster apocalypse movie, as well!

THE WORLD’S END

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Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg wrap their trilogy with the most ambiguous and ambitious one of them all. It’s a body-snatcher movie about scraping off all the rough edges of one’s individuality: all our flaws and defining idiosyncrasies. It’s also a movie about growing up late, only when forced to by swarms of the blue-blooded possessed. It’s the Starbucks of extra-normal identity theft.

Like THIS IS THE END, only a whole lot deeper (but equally funny), this is a movie that could only be made by successful people at the peak of their clout. And for all the high-energy murder and mayhem, it is a sad little film. And a beautiful one, too. But mostly hilarious, and jacked with delirious technique.

Extra half-bonus:

V/H/S/2

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If every segment of this nifty anthology film had been as mind-blowing as “Safe Haven” — a short film that makes the EVIL DEAD remake look like it was treading water in slow motion — this would have totally made a neat thirteen.

There’s a lot of fun stuff sprinkled through the rest, no doubt — zombies in the park, a dog with a Go-Cam strapped to it when the aliens invade, and so forth — but MY GOD. At feature length, this descent into an Indonesian death-cult — as directed by THE RAID: REDEMPTION’S Gareth Evans and his friend Timo Thahjanto — would have been the year’s best horror film by far. And definitely makes the whole thing worth your while.

SO THAT’S MY LIST! If one of your faves didn’t make it on here, I either didn’t see it, or I just didn’t love it as much as you did.

HAPPY NEW YEAR, EVERYONE! Let’s hope next year has at least this much astonishment to bask in. To my mind, this was a super-fine year.

Till next time!

Yer pal,

Skipp

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About the author
John Skipp
John Skipp is a New York Times bestselling author/editor/filmmaker, zombie godfather, compulsive collaborator, musical pornographer, black-humored optimist and all-around Renaissance mutant. His early novels from the 1980s and 90s pioneered the graphic, subversive, high-energy form known as splatterpunk. His anthology Book of the Dead was the beginning of modern post-Romero zombie literature. His work ranges from hardcore horror to whacked-out Bizarro to scathing social satire, all brought together with his trademark cinematic pace and intimate, unflinching, unmistakable voice. From young agitator to hilarious elder statesman, Skipp remains one of genre fiction's most colorful characters. Visit him at Facebook, or on Twitter @YerPalSkipp
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