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The Year in Horror, 2013: Chris Alexander’s Top Films

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One of the pleasures of loving horror cinema is defining exactly what a horror movie is. Let’s face it, many of our most beloved morbid masterpieces were not considered horror films by their helmers, the very word “horror” deemed to be a grotty ghetto bottom feeder genre by many. To me, horror is that swelling feeling of dread and terror. It’s the sadness of death, the misery of shocking violent death, the anxiety about the “other”—whether an external, or internal, threat—and often, just the sheer phantasmagorical punch of seeing things that do not, and cannot exist, in the natural world suddenly run rampant before our eyes.

Here then, are the best horror films—by my definition—that I saw this year. Some have yet to be released, but I still viewed them in 2013.

In no particular order:

MAGIC MAGIC

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Juno Temple comes undone slowly and methodically, trapped in a foreign land with people she doesn’t know getting edged off of a psychological cliff (and a real one, almost) in this mystical, slow burning and minimalist portrait of mental breakdown. It got to me, this one did. One of those great anti-horror horror films where nothing particularly horrible happens, but for 90 minutes it threatens to, thus instigating endless anxiety in the viewer that takes its bait.

BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO

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Bizarre, baroque, singular and divisive. BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO is an abstract psycho thriller masquerading as a giallo featuring a mesmerizing turn by Toby Jones and hypnotic visuals and audio in this mind-bending film about a sound designer trapped in Italy losing his marbles while stabbing melons and recording screams for an Italian horror movie’s go-for-broke Foley. Nothing else like it, and that’s how I like it. (Full Review)

HERE COMES THE DEVIL

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A towering force of filmed horror. Just read my review already.

WORLD WAR Z

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Maybe it’s a middling, borderline trashing of a well-loved novel (and yes, I loved the novel) but I rather loved this movie and took it as the most badass, ballistic remake of Umberto Lenzi’s NIGHTMARE CITY (NIGHTMARE PLANET!) ever imagined. Non-stop action, a strong presence in Brad Pitt, tons of suspense, tons of fun and some things I have never seen on screen before. I’m happy it did well theatrically and happier that even the grumpiest horror fan is embracing it on home video.

BYZANTIUM

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Neil Jordan is a master of darkness and when he turns his eye to horror—especially the underbelly and loneliness of vampirism—I buckle in rapture. An ideal companion to his lush adaptation of Rice’s INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE, BYZANTIUM gives us the best of two broads in Saorise Ronan as a vampire teen and Gemma Arterton as her bloodsucking survivalist/whore-by-necessity mum, living secretly in a rundown hotel by the sea. Erotic, amusing, atmospheric, moving, bloody and thoroughly alive filmmaking. A classic vampire film the likes of which ain’t really made anymore.

ONLY GOD FORGIVES

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Like hell it’s not a horror movie! Everything Nicolas-Winding Refn does is a horror movie and this dedicated fervor is no exception. Immersive, exotic, violent, perverse, riveting in its dedication to being boring and full of eccentric characters doing terrible things to each other while Cliff Martinez’s dreamy music takes center stage and propels the steadily-becoming-my-favorite-contemporary-actor Ryan Gosling’s stoic performance. A radical companion piece to Refn’s essential mood piece action classic DRIVE, by way of his towering masterpiece VALHALLA RISING.

INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 2

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FANGORIA’s Phil Brown saw this press screening with me and upon our exit, as both of us mused on how wildly visual and sensual James Wan’s surrealist sequel was, he said this: “THE CONJURING was a bit overrated and this will be more than a bit underrated.” And he was right, as many horror fans and general cinemagoers didn’t warm to this one as much as they did the first INSIDIOUS and got wrapped up in pithy things like dodgy dialogue and lack of plot. Such concerns never stopped SUSPIRIA and that’s really what INSIDIOUS 2 is: Wan’s SUSPIRIA. And man, I do love me some SUSPIRIA…

FRANKENSTEIN’S ARMY

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You know that feeling of wide-eyed, jaw dropping, skin vibrating glee that you had as a kid when you saw some of cinema ‘s weirdest on-screen beasts for the first time? Well, I had that more than a dozen times whilst watching FRANKENSTEIN’S ARMY. Once you accept the unnatural WWII HD found footage conceit and just roll with its wonkiness, this carnival of steampunk zombots and the poor Russian soldiers who run afoul of them and their maker is a riotous ride through imagination and irreverent monster movie tropes that had me squealing with delight.

ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE

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I saw this one, the latest from shoegazing indie God Jim Jarmusch, at TIFF and was fascinated by its rhythm, meandering pace and unique relationship to music. It’s a vampire film like no other. Read my review and whenever it opens, just make sure you see it. Please and thanks.

UNDER THE SKIN

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Another TIFF favorite and perhaps, one of my favorite horror films ever made. I need to see it one more time to be sure. This artful, dread fueled and ambiguous near dialogue-free amalgam of LIFEFORCE and THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH gripped me from head to toe and reminded me of the absolute power of making images move, assembling them together and adding sound to hit human beings right in their primordial ooze. And there’s plenty of primordial ooze in this one-of-a-kind masterpiece. (Full Review)

GRAVITY

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I know, not a horror movie, right? My ass. You try floating through dead space alone with minimal oxygen and surrounded by the decimated corpses of your colleagues and chunks of space junk orbiting around your delirious head and tell me you wouldn’t be scared. Alfonso Cuaron’s magnum existential space drama blends elements of CAST AWAY, SOLARIS (especially in the presence of the remake’s George Clooney) and ALIEN and coats them in astonishing production values—in 3D or otherwise, this film looks incredible—while giving aging screen sweetheart Sandra Bullock a career best role. Not just a movie, an experience and a terrifying one at that.

So there you have it. Bring on 2014.  Actually, since I just saw NURSE, we’ll start 2014’s best of list now:

1.      NURSE

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About the author
Chris Alexander
Author, film critic, teacher, musician and filmmaker (not to mention failed boxer) Chris Alexander is the editor-in-chief of FANGORIA Magazine. He got his first professional break as the “Schizoid Cinephile” in the pages of Canadian horror film magazine RUE MORGUE before making the move to FANGO in 2007. His words have appeared in The Toronto Star, Metro News, Wired, Montage, The Dark Side, Tenebre and many other notable publications and he appears regularly on international television and radio.
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