JOHN SKIPP’S 2012 SHOCKTOBER FILM HIT LIST! (AND YES, IT’S GONNA BE WEIRD!)
I don’t know about you, but where I come from, October is “Designated Scary Movie Month”. This means not only revisiting tried and true favorites, but setting aside time to start catching up with the latest crop, in search of new festive holiday favorites and genuine haunters that will stand the test of time.
And have I ever found some doozies for you!
The big surprise for me, so far, has been the thread of remarkable intelligence running through my top picks. In fact, most of them are so structurally cunning, so packed with mind-bending surprises and powerful ideas, that there’s no way to discuss them in depth without ruining them entirely. So I won’t.
The other item of note is that almost none of them are even remotely conventional horror films. In fact, some may argue that most if not all of them aren’t horror films at all. And in several cases, I’d be tempted to agree.
Except for this one thing.
When I gauge the horror quotient of a motion picture, I’m not just tallying up monsters and spooky mood music, the number of jump scares and gruesome kills. I’ve reached the point where paint-by-number formula thrillers are like yawn-inducing psychic wallpaper to me. Unless you’re bringing something new to the party – fresh ideas, startling energy, unique perspective, or staggering technique – my been-there-done-that gland kicks in, squirting boredom juice all over my brain.
To me, most of the best horror I’ve seen this year was NOT straight horror. It snuck in sideways – as psychological drama, as pitch-black comedy, as crime film or science fiction – and then delivered the genuine shocks, horrified laughs, and/or flesh-crawling insights that define true horror for me.
And here is my list, in alphabetical order:
Let’s start with The Cabin In The Woods, Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon’s elaborate deconstruction of not just every monster movie trope known to man, but also of the deeper cosmic horror underlying the myth-making machineries behind them (a.k.a. Hollywood), including the best explanation ever posited for why characters always do all those incredibly stupid things that inevitably get them killed.
I know the world is divided on this one, but I’m squarely in the love camp. If there’s one thing that makes me happy, it’s watching clichés get torn open and squirt all over the place. It’s a Darwinian culling of the herd, an Emperor’s New Clothes moment, which all-but-begs future creative artists to find new ways to scare us. Please.
I laughed my ass off all the way through, and was excited by the skillful way it both lovingly embraced and thoroughly dissected the genre. In that sense, it did for horror fans what Galaxyquest did for Star Trek geeks. Color me crazy, but I think that’s a beautiful thing.
On the flip side is Ben Wheatley’s Kill List, a British domestic drama that turns into an alarmingly violent crime film before revealing itself as the twisted horror movie it always was. We just didn’t know it.
When it wrapped, I found myself thinking, “What the hell did I just watch?” But the more I thought about it, the more excited I got. Mike Leigh meets Roman Polanski at Takeshi Miike’s house. And holy shit.
Likewise for Pedro Almodovar’s The Skin I Live In, a profound gender-rupturing art-film meditation on rape, role-reversal, and psycho-sexual identity that takes Franju’s 1960 shocker Eyes Without A Face as the leaping-off point, then gets roughly three times as weird. This is masterful filmmaking, intimate and obsessive and almost unspeakably human. By far the classiest film on the list.
Lynne Ramsey’s We Need To Talk About Kevin is more straight-up in its depiction of a mother’s attempt to cope with her psychotic child, and the familial blowback from his inevitable misdeeds. It’s not fun, but it’s incredibly well done, and there’s no arguing its immense tragic power.
Even grimmer is Jennifer Lynch’s Chained, the almost-too-horrible-to-contemplate story of a little boy kidnapped at the age of 9 by a serial killer, who keeps him around to clean house and learn valuable life lessons about why all women are whores who need to die.
This is a movie so claustrophobic, so surreal in its unabated matter-of-factness, and so impeccably rendered that it falls more in Jack Ketchum than David Lynch territory, with echoes of both, but a voice all its own.
If you’d prefer some fun in your psychotic killing spree, let me point you directly to God Bless America, Bobcat Goldthwait’s incendiary vigilante assault on everything stupid and corruptive about contemporary culture. Like James Gunn’s Super, and Matthew Vaughn’s Kickass – only without the superhero conceit – it both exalts and indicts our desire to fight back against bullshit and evil, not to mention common rudeness and “just not being nice”. It’s sharply written, insanely funny, painfully honest, deeply fucked-up, and completely adorable. As such, I love it to pieces.
David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis is harder to love, but astonishingly rewarding for those who hang in. It’s a cerebral horror story about our economy-gone-mad; and the sociopathic billionaire at its core is every bit as batshit crazy as Patrick Bateman in American Psycho, except that – unlike the global financial rape at the core of it – all the sex is consensual. (The occasional bursts of shattering violence, of course, are not.)
For Cronenberg fans, this is not a return to the body horror of old. But it’s his most challengingly weird, daring, and brilliant work since Existenz, and fits into the Videodrome/Naked Lunch end of his vast filmic spectrum (scrupulously based on the novel by Don DeLillo, which seems so timely you’d think it must have been written last week, but actually came out in 2003). All in all, a very welcome return. And possibly his funniest film to date.
Speaking of timely returns to form, I include Oliver Stone’s Savages largely because of a) its staggeringly frank and muscular bursts of ultra-violence, and b) its detailed analysis of how the War on Drugs has handed the most beneficent weed in God’s Creation over to the most psychotic motherfuckers on Planet Earth, and somehow thinks that that’s a good thing. GUESS AGAIN!
As a life-long stoner now in his 55th year, delivering the marijuana biz to happily-decapitating Mexican drug lords is like forcibly handing Jesus a flame-thrower at gunpoint and saying, “Burn down that orphanage full of sleeping children, or we’ll do it for you, and then RE-crucify you for murdering all those kids.”
That’s institutionalized psychosis. And psychosis is horror. Whatever your politics – however you feel about pot – the fact that people are getting their heads chopped off because other people just like to get high is so insane, on so many levels, that I just gotta say: if that ain’t horror, I don’t know what is.
Plus, it’s a damn fine film. Skillful. Engaged. And entirely entertaining. The toughest Stone since Natural Born Killers. But sweeter. Whether you like it or not.
This brings me to Looper, the only bona fide hit on the list. And deservedly so. One of the best Hollywood films of the year.
Is it horror? Technically, no. It’s a science fiction crime story. Any moron could see that.
But does it have two of the most jaw-droppingly horrific scenes to hit the screen this year? Yes, it does. If you’ve seen it, you know what I mean. If you haven’t, you missed Rian Johnson delivering some of the best, most expertly shocking people-coming-apart sequences in out-of-genre horror history. CATCH UP!
Speaking of jaw-dropping: if you haven’t seen The Raid: Redemption, this astonishing Indonesian actioner by Gareth Huy Evans – about a team of cops fighting their way floor-by-floor up a highrise occupied entirely by violent criminals – is so stupidly, crazily, amazingly packed with non-stop hyper-kinetic mayhem that you won’t be able to stop for a second and go, “Is this horror?” OF COURSE IT IS! Did you see that shit?
Wrapping the list is Excision, the wildly-outside-of-the-norm feature film debut of one Richard Bates Jr., which has flown straight to the top of my “Omigod, omigod, you gotta SEE this!” cult film pantheon.
Equal parts early John Waters-style wrongness, Heathers-style teenage black comedy, Jodorowski-style mind-blowing art film, and Cronenbergian full-blown body horror, Excision drags us into the life of the most messed-up young female protagonist since Lucky McKee’s May. That he managed to not just juggle but fully integrate these elements into something far larger than the sum of its parts is a marvel that I am still marveling at, days later. It’s an extraordinary film, with by far the greatest gut-punch of an ending I’ve seen this year.
And that’s the thing. Every single one of these films has genuinely stuck to my ribs, pleasuring and provoking me ever since, in ways that most genre films unfortunately don’t.
That said: what will I be watching this Halloween?
The Cabin In The Woods
Evil Dead II
Return Of The Living Dead
Trailer Park Of Terror
Cuz that sounds like a party to me.
HAPPY HALLOWEEN, EVERYBODY!!!