Happy New Year, Ravenous Readers! It’s time to take a look back at all that our dark and depraved genre had to offer in 2011.
First, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that this past year holds the distinction of being the first full year that Ravenous Monster was up and running, having bubbled forth from the swampy filth in November of 2010. Since then, I’ve had the pleasure of working with some of the most creative and dedicated horror writers out there and for that I’m grateful, lucky, resourceful, thankful, and something involving a kitchen sink. RavMon scribes are outstanding and it’s been an honor to cover the scary stuff alongside them.
My thoughts on horror in 2011 are a little dichotomous. It wasn’t a great year, but if you looked hard enough, it wasn’t a bad year. For example, while mainstream theatrical horror remained a putrid pile of remade, re-imagined, and regurgitated tripe, indie and foreign horror were rife with great flicks. On TV, the landscape was similar. THE WALKNG DEAD was hands down fantastic while AMERICAN HORROR STORY was a bit of a contrived mess, albeit one with potential. But the point is that this scenario played out in books, comics, even conventions. No media was consistently on fire, but if you stuck around long enough you were bound to burn.
So while the consensus at Ravenous Monster seems to be that 2011 was a bit of a down year, what’s fascinating is that we don’t all agree on why. In some cases our opinions overlap, at other times we completely disagree, but everyone arrives at the same overall conclusion. So please enjoy the cynical, hopeful, funny, and outright unexpected recaps of the 2011 Year in Horror by Justin Hamelin, Dr. Abner Mality, Christine M. Soltis, Anibal Arturo Casco Avila, and Hunter C. Eden.
Thanks for reading and I look forward to sharing a horrible, bloody, and monstrous 2012 with you.
–Jason Thorson, RavMon Editor-in-Chief
As another year comes to an end, I always enjoy a nice, bloody trip down memory lane. Over the last twelve months, the horror community has had reason to rejoice, wish a pox on Hollywood, and everything in between.
I sat down to go over my list of horror flicks I’ve seen since January and was able to come up with twelve that I thoroughly enjoyed. Breaking that down, I was given one good horror flick per month this year. I’d consider that a solid year, although some of these films wouldn’t have made the list in a different year. But it is what it is and 2011 did give me two new additions to my Top 10 Favorite Horror Movies list.
DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK (while it started making the film festival rounds in 2010, it didn’t hit mainstream media until earlier this year), HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN, INSIDIOUS, SCREAM 4, and BLACK DEATH are my Top 5 films of the year. Feel free to flame away, but indie low budget horror, the Scream series, and medieval psychotic madness will always have a tender place in my heart.
Then there were book releases! THE NIGHT ETERNAL, the third and presumably final book in the del Toro/Chuck Hogan THE STRAIN trilogy, has been out for roughly two months now and I’ve yet to read it. I’m ashamed. I’m absolutely dying to read the conclusion of this fantastic series. And Stephen King takes us for a blast from the past with his novel 11/22/63, an excellent piece of fiction that stays true to the non-fiction aspects of one of the most devastating moments in American history.
In the music world, we had the mighty Alice Cooper tear apart our sweet dreams and welcome us back to his nightmare. WELCOME 2 MY NIGHTMARE is a triumphant sequel to Cooper’s 1975 debut solo album, WELCOME TO MY NIGHTMARE. I dare anyone to name a musician who followed up a groundbreaking album with a sequel almost just as awesome thirty-six years later. You can’t? That’s because there’s only one Alice Cooper.
Finally, there were the personal highlights of this year. As a writer, I was blessed to get in touch with Jason Thorson and start my little adventure as a freelance writer here at Ravenous Monster (Awe shucks – Ed.). I also finished my $53 zombie short, DEAD., started my first feature length film, and began to get heavily involved with the Women In Horror Recognition Month campaign.
Here’s to what was an awesome 2011 and to what will be an even better 2012!
It’s that cheerful time of year again when I crawl from my mistletoe-wreathed crypt to ruminate upon the horror world of 2011. This year saw little relief from the flood of inferior remakes and video game horror that has brought the genre to such a low level, yet there are hidden gems if you know where to look.
Much of the best horror came from overseas this year, as has been the fashion for the last decade or so. Two films stood out in terms of imagination and intensity. Norway’s TROLL HUNTER was a demented, thrill-packed ride through a world of both modern psychological horror and bizarre mythological monsters. This is the sort of off the wall non-conformist film-making that Hollywood has generally forgotten how to do and while it may not be the ultimate film as far as instilling pure fear goes, it delivers a hell of a lot of entertainment. The intensity came mostly from Korea’s searing I SAW THE DEVIL, a tale of revenge amplified beyond all human sanity and decency. This is thoroughly modern and disturbing horror: the story of a “good guy” whose obsession to avenge his wife’s death leads him to become as evil as the serial killer he stalks. This one is not for the faint of heart.
The flood of useless remakes and poor sequels continued with a limp FRIGHT NIGHT, an irrelevant FINAL DESTINATION 5 and yet another journey to the ultra-low-budget land of moving furniture and spooky kid ghosts, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3. Somehow these Paranormal Activity films induce loose bladders in some people, but I hardly blink at the ho-hum poltergeist antics. However, I do have to say I enjoyed Guillermo del Toro’s remake of the cult TV movie DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK. The original caused kids who grew up in the 70’s to freak out nationwide and the clever del Toro updated the concept of evil gnomes lurking in a house without losing the general ambience. Speaking of del Toro, he and partner Chuck Hogan found huge success in the book world with their vampire series THE STRAIN, which I expect will become a film soon. Del Toro to me is one of the few “can’t miss” creators working today.
THE WALKING DEAD maintained its iron grip on TV horror with its second season. I have some issues with the increased emphasis on human drama at the expense of zombie horror, but the program is definitely gripping viewing. This season had more of a rural flavor to it and packed some truly surprising shocks in its cliff-hangers. As long as the zombies aren’t made into total clowns (which happens almost all the time, even in Romero’s recent movies) and the acting is of a high standard, THE WALKING DEAD deserves its success.
One phenomenon that continued to sweep the horror world is Human Centipede mania. You can say what you want about these absurd, disgusting and primitive films, but they have created a completely new and grotesque kind of horror based on sickening mutilation. This year’s sequel HUMAN CENTIPEDE 2 has been condemned as one of the most disgusting movies ever made and German maniac director Tom Six promises yet one more sequel to come. These are horrible movies in every sense of the word, yet they are not formulaic slashers, man-eating zombie, or spooky kid ghost movies…they plumb new and original depths of depravity.
The biggest treat for lovers of classic horror such as me was the full restoration and release on DVD of the 1932 classic ISLAND OF LOST SOULS. This infamous movie was banned and cut for years and while of course it’s not the blood bath that today’s films are, it still packs quite a wallop. The great Charles Laughton is evil personified as Dr. Moreau. The scene where his beast-men, led by Bela Lugosi as the “Sayer of the Law”, get their revenge on him in the “House of Pain” is unforgettable because it leaves the worst to your imagination…except for Laughton’s agonizing scream.
Hammer Studios rose from the dead in 2011 and A.I.P is ready to make a return with THE WRATH OF FRANKENSTEIN. I can only hope these revived studios are half as much fun as their original inspirations. 2012 shall no doubt reveal more on that front.
So while on the whole, 2011 was another mediocre year, it wasn’t totally hopeless and I hope that 2012 sees these small successes grow and expand.
Mainstream horror movies of 2011 were, in my opinion, a bit of a disappointment. The good news is that there is much more to horror than that which is mainstream and horror is not just limited to movies either of course!
First off, I noticed that the amount of films I watched this year actually plummeted for once. Horror flicks are my number one favorite thing to watch, though I do watch other genres even if they aren’t always quite as entertaining. The reason for the drop in movie watching was not just because of a busy life schedule, but also because there were so few releases that were exciting enough to actually make me stop and say, “Hey, I HAVE to see that!” Many of the releases this year were more like, “Ah, I can see that some other time. It doesn’t look THAT interesting.”
I could easily blame this on the overuse of already made movies being remade, or maybe the never-ending sequels of the same storylines or the lack of fresh ideas and quality works by major budget producers. But when it comes down to it, there really is no excuse for holding back a genre that the world truly does tend to be drawn to, fascinated by, and sometimes even obsessed with.
As an example, on a trip to Los Angeles in April of 2011, a friend and I randomly passed large posters promoting the movie INSIDIOUS. The poster itself was effective; dark and gloomy, a haunted looking kid with creepy eyes. Seeing the kid with the creepy eyes was a definite, “I’ve got to see that; I wonder what he is going to do to his poor, unsuspecting family?” However, when I finally got to see it, I was sorely disappointed. In my opinion, the horror in it was “killed” off pretty easily by what I would call an “oddly creepy, yet comedic” ending. I started to laugh near the end (I oftentimes laugh in the middle of a horror film anyway, especially if it’s particularly macabre), but this laughter was more like “Did that really just happen?” Now keep in mind that I am not your typical critic, as I tend to like most things and respect others for taking the time to create something in the first place, but I couldn’t help myself there. I was disappointed.
However, to make up for a lack of good films, several television shows have come forth to throw horror back to the forefront, including the addictive, THE WALKING DEAD and AMERICAN HORROR STORY.
This year, on the positive side, I became much more interested and involved in the local horror community around Pittsburgh, PA, where films tend to focus more on story than on expensive special effects. Early in 2011 I was pretty surprised to find horror conventions in my town. Even more exciting was attending these events, vending books and talking to other individuals, including celebrity guests. It was a pleasant surprise to meet Horror Realm Celebrity Guest Lori Cardille (DAY OF THE DEAD 1985), who is in fact one of the sweetest ladies I have ever met. When purchasing an autograph from her, all proceeds went to a charitable organization, which makes it even better.
After attending conventions through the year, I met a whole lot of other great horror folks whose work continues to entertain me. I have read several horror books from local authors, many of which take macabre to a whole new level and leave me stuck in between the fundamental-yet-funny question of, “Was that great or just plain gross?” The important thing is that horror is not instantly forgotten and that’s what makes us crave the exhilaration of the scare.
For 2012, I would like to see more dark flicks than I saw in 2011. I want to be scared, mystified, shocked, terrified and maybe even a little confused. I want to be challenged and I’m pretty sure most other horror fans would like this from the genre too. So here’s to hoping 2012 horror will be much more haunting for us – and not just a ghost of the genre.
Although I much consider myself a man of letters, studied as I am within the literary genre, for the past several years I have neglected my obligations to the written page in favor of the medium of film. And, while I can often say that I enjoy sophisticated masterpieces and oeuvres of sensual, visual delight, it is a plain fact – made all too obvious by my participation on this site – that I very often indulge in some very bad movies. Nevertheless, I do occasionally come across movies that are distinguished by forming a nexus wherein ribald horror and quality intersect and it was during this, the year of our Lord two thousand and eleven, that I had the privilege of reviewing a few of these movies for Ravenous Monster.
In this humble writer’s opinion, this year was certainly a year with an output of entertaining movies, although not many that particularly stand out. The rest of what I came across in horror in terms of movies consisted almost entirely of wasted poorly-executed potential, save for the occasional resplendent gleam of quality that managed to escape from the event horizon of those myriad black holes of stupefying triteness.
While I started the year off with what was technically a movie from 2010 – late in the year as it was when it was released – I finally caught BLACK SWAN about a month after it started playing in theaters. This movie stands out particularly to me because it was the first one I reviewed for RavMon as well as for being a movie which I ended up loving. Several other movies such as APOLLO 18 and FINAL DESTINATION 5 were also movies that I enjoyed, the former for being well-made and interesting and the latter for being good at doing what it does best, namely, a superfluous and redundant plot that provides the vehicle for grisly, ghastly death scenes with the added benefit of having them in 3-D this time around.
The films that disappointed me the most were also those which were most anticipated. I looked forward to both Insidious and PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3, products of the creators behind the SAW and PARANORMAL ACTIVITY series. However, much like DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK, behind the façade of interesting visuals and promising scenarios, they rested on laurels which had wilted some time previously. Throughout the year, this was the formula which seemed to pervade.
An aspect that also bothered me was the Syfy channel’s movies. They began as under-funded but occasionally interesting productions which were unintentionally campy and funny. It seems that now, though, every movie that comes from SyFy is just catering to the hipster in all of us, eagerly awaiting the next meme of self-conscious irony like the spring-loaded jaw of a sharktopus. Similarly, their shows have become utterly banal vessels for the same mix of zany, nerdy recurring characters that abound throughout alternative television to partake in their loveable pithy misadventures.
After waiting almost a year for THE WALKING DEAD to return, I was very not surprised to see that it remained as dull as it had been in the first season. It plays like a soap opera with zombies. If it weren’t for the fact that I love watching zombies, there is very little else in the series that kept my interest for the year between the first season and the second season’s first half. So, sex is brought into the mix to spice up the interpersonal dynamics and a plot twist that no one saw coming (honestly, sirs and madams) closes the final season of As the General Hospital Turns Our lives with special guest Maury Povich. If I have nails left after the tense anticipation during the three month interval between the first part and the second part of season two, then that is only because I dared not open my mouth lest I stop holding my breath.
On a final note, I also hear that Tim Burton is behind a movie version of DARK SHADOWS, which should prove to be quite as painful and boring as the majority of his recent efforts. Johnny Depp (who else?) will star as Barnabas Collins, because his rendition of Willy Wonka was just that impressive. Apparently, there is also a remake of THE MUNSTERS in the works; according to the people behind it, this version will be a grittier, darker drama. Once again, such gossamer hints are dropped, alluding to the great minds of entertainment working hard to tell the gritty reimagining of a cherished fixture from our childhoods. Frankly, I’m relieved that they are hard at work removing the morbid humor from that terrible show about an impossible family.
Overall, I guess it wasn’t a terrible year, but, it also wasn’t a fabulous year, either. It isn’t like this is the last whole year we have, though, is it?
I saw BLACK SWAN, and that was pretty much it. No, I didn’t read the new Stephen King novel (there was one, right?) and I still haven’t seen the new “premake” of THE THING as Justin Hamelin so brilliantly described it, or that shark movie from the guys who made all those other cheap-ass, shit-grade horror movies for people who still think “it turns out the main character was the murderer all along!” is an awesomely original twist ending. But it was a great year for living horror, and for seeing firsthand the roots our great genre has planted in my head. I didn’t experience horror like the brave Arab Spring protesters tortured and shot by their governments, or like the victims of the earthquake in New Zealand or the nuclear plant disaster in Japan. But I got a little taste of a lighter kind of horror in my own life.
Last January I was in Egypt for a course in intensive Arabic, and I happened to arrive in time for the beginning of the January 25th Revolution and the January 28th Day of Rage. Because I’m a writer with questionable judgment, I went to watch one of the protests, huffed a little teargas, and got my hands on a souvenir rubber-bullet shotgun shell. That wasn’t horror, though. The protesters were universally welcoming, courageous, and staunch in their support for Egyptian democracy. I remember a woman in a full bhurka, wreathed in teargas, holding up a posterboard sign and screaming at the riot police. Making my way with a friend through the back alleys of Cairo, we heard a chorus of “Welcome to Egypt!” and “Go this way to avoid the gas!” and “Police that way!” Truthfully, I can think of fewer times I have felt safer or more accepted in a foreign country.
By this point, ex-President Mubarak had shut off the internet, and we heard that he had opened the prisons and released hordes of felons into the streets. The idea was that as crime in Cairo skyrocketed, people would miss the regime’s heavy hand and stop protesting. Mubarak, like most dictators, underestimated the resiliency, courage, and commitment of his people. That night we stood on top of the American University in Cairo dorms listening to gunfire somewhere across the city–individual shots and the peck-peck-peck of machine guns. Rumors said that the military was about to step in; that the Bedouins, angry at the death of a Bedouin protester, were firing off rocket launchers in Sinai; that thugs armed with samurai swords were riding around Cairo on motor scooters looting shops and houses.
Twice, we thought the dorms were going to be attacked. Once, the Residential Assistants (and man, did I feel sorry for these poor college kids who just wanted to pick up a few extra credits and ended up having to shepherd a bunch of panicky foreigners through an honest-to-fucking-God revolution; they did an amazing job) rushed us up onto the roof because they thought the looters were going to break in through the glass front door. The second time, a number of us raced into the street outside the dorm armed with broom handles because an alarm had gone up from the Coptic Church across the street. It turned out to be false, but as I ran down the stairs with nothing but a metal squeegee mop between me and katana bikers or machine gun-toting outlaws, it occurred to me that I might very well get my head split in the next fifteen minutes.
We got evacuated eventually, and a week or two later, the protesters toppled the Mubarak regime. And in the back of my mind, I couldn’t stop thinking of John Carpenter’s THE THING. In Cairo we broke down and went numb or panicked or tried to joke around or smoked hashish and took over-the-counter knockoff Xanax to numb ourselves to the uncertainty and fear of it. We were Windows and Nauls and Palmer and Norris and all the others. Me? I wish I could say I was cool, level-headed McCready, but I was Childs, seized by a profound terror and a kind of insane bravado. I wanted to fight, I wanted looters. I sharpened my toothbrush into a shank and stalked around the dorms – waiting. During the first attack scare, I tore one of my shirts up and started wrapping my hands. It was crazy, really – worrying about breaking my knuckles fist-fighting when I was more likely to get shot or stabbed or have my head broken by a steel pipe. Part of me realized it was ridiculous to be kneeling in front of seventy-five percent of AUC’s exchange students and half its RAs, wrapping my hands for a prospective last stand (I kept thinking, mantra-like, that if I had to die violently, I would die fighting). But part of me also realized that when was this an appropriate response if not now? This sounds like braggadocio, but really I was scared shitless. I snuck into the kitchen and considered stealing a knife, but chose not to out of some odd sense of apocalyptic propriety.
The real MacReadys were the Egyptians, and the RAs who kept people calm, made sure our passports were in order, and kept everybody safe during a time that had the potential to be an incredible shitstorm. I wish I could say I was a force for order rather than chaos, but I wasn’t. I was as much an obstacle as the girl who bitched about people turning on Arabic news she couldn’t understand or the (American) guy who claimed his Mubarak-connected uncle would sort it all out or the people who freaked out and started crying. I never did end up having to shank anybody with my toothbrush or fistfight in the streets of Cairo, but I guess 2011 taught me who I’d be in the event of a zombie uprising or invasion of cosmic horrors, and that’s got to count for something, even if I didn’t see THE RITE or FRIGHT NIGHT 3-D.