It’s that time again – my favorite movies of 2018!
Want to see what I liked in previous years? Check out these links:
Holy shit was 2018 a fucking crazy year. If you follow the news and world events you know that 2018 was one of the nuttiest years in recent memory. Just as the world went crazy around us, I feel the movies of 2018, whether intentionally or not, captured that spirit perfectly.
Hollywood hasn’t known what to do with the box office as of late. While giant budget franchise sequels still dominate, the studios have been forced to reduce their budgets on other projects and began to desperately throw anything at the wall to see what would stick. How else do you explain a year in which MANDY, SORRY TO BOTHER YOU, and AN EVENING WITH BEVERLY LUFF LINN all ending up with wide distribution or backing from a major studio?
There’s been a lot of talk for years about how we are in a new golden age of television. I’d like to propose that we may be in that for film as well. Sure, if you’re just looking at box office numbers it doesn’t appear that way but then OZ was never a number one rated show either.
Due to studios quietly release niche titles, streaming services getting in on the production game, and the almost infinite number of independent distribution methods, there was a shit-ton of movies to see this year if your tastes lean to the wacky, horrific, and/or weird. I saw about eighty movies in 2018 and there were still another about another twenty that I never got around to.
If you’re one of those people that say there’s no original movies coming out these days, you aren’t even fucking trying.
When I was looking at other people’s top ten lists from 2018 one big thing jumped out at me – everyone’s lists look so different. The sheer variety and quality in all corners of the film world in 2018 was nothing short of inspiring. No matter where your tastes lay, there were movies for you.
Just to get it out of way because if I don’t every comment will be asking me – yes, I saw HEREDITARY. No, it didn’t make my list. Deal with it.
Every year there is some debate in the comments on how I come up with my list, in particular, the question of how I determine release dates. Most movies it’s easy to pinpoint the year they were released it but sometimes there are releases that have festival screenings up to a year before the general audience can see it. If a movie had a limited release last year but the wide wasn’t until this year and that’s how I saw it – I count it. If it had a limited release that I saw but it’s not wide until next year – I still count it. It’s not a perfect system but it’s what I got.
With that out of the way, let’s move on to my favorite movies of 2018! Like I said, there was a ton of movies that I liked this year and they couldn’t all be on my top ten. Here’s some that almost made the cut.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: ATTACK OF THE ADULT BABIES, LOWLIFE, REVENGE, UNFRIENDED: DARK WEB, ASSASSINATION NATION, and THE RITUAL.
Check out those movies. They were all seriously good. But they weren’t my favorites of 2018.
10: YOU MIGHT BE THE KILLER (Brett Simmons, United States)
A camp counselor wakes up covered in blood with himself and his fellow counselors are being hunted by a masked killer. He calls his horror movie obsessed friend for advice on survival but she puts forward a question – is he sure he’s not the killer?
YOU MIGHT BE THE KILLER is a clever and innovative film that takes all the cliché slasher tropes and completely turns them on their head. Inspired by a twitter thread between Chuck Wendig and Sam Sykes of all things, the movie is hilarious for horror fans who have seen way too many slasher flicks and spend way too much time wondering what Jason Voorhees does off-screen.
9: ANIMAL WORLD (Han Yan, China)
After a man finds himself in extreme debt, he enters the world’s most extreme rock-paper-scissors tournament to win a chance to have his debt voided. Also, when he gets stressed out he hallucinates that he is a ninja Ronald McDonald that graphically kills monsters. And Michael Douglas is in this for some insane reason.
Just reading that description makes this sounds like a mess but against all odds, it works fantastically. The tournament works as a tight and gripping thriller and you’ll find yourself completely hooked and absorbed in each round. In a year that had a lot of insane films that shouldn’t have worked but did, this is a stand-out that fell beneath most cult-fans’ radar.
8: UPGRADE (Leigh Whannell, Australia/United States)
After an attack leaves a man fully paralyzed and his wife dead, he gets an experimental cybernetic implant that gives him full control of limbs again. But the implant has a “mind” of its own and can take over his body to perform superhuman feats. With these new abilities, he sets out to find who killed his love and ruined his life.
This was THE action movie of 2018. The action sequences are just a joy to watch in their kinetic energy and effective punctuation of extreme gore. While the movie could have just had the main character and his implant and still be weird, the creators went the extra mile and created a truly bizarre cyberpunk world. Each scene introduces new characters and situations that could have been their own entire movie. Instead, we go at a break-neck-pace (sometimes literally) from one over-the-top surreal action scene to another.
I won’t give anything away but the ending to this movie is fantastic. You’re going to think you know what is actually going on the entire movie but the twist here is so satisfying.
7: CAM (Daniel Goldhaber, United States)
An up-and-coming camgirl finds herself trapped in a nightmare as a digital doppelganger of her attempts to steal her business and ruin her life.
Sex workers are frequently portrayed in horror as either objects of exploitation or titillation. It was extremely refreshing to come across this title which uses the world of sex work as a main theme and yet never comes across as leering at the characters (it helps that the script was written by a camgirl).
Not only do we get character types we rarely see taken seriously in film but we also get an original and relevant story revolving around technological horror that most horror films are desperate to avoid (characters actually have phones and know how to use Google in this movie!). I would describe the overall horror of this story as almost a Lovecraftian take the internet and social media.
It’s not a perfect movie but this is the type of forward-thinking horror that I want to see more of.
6: PUPPET MASTER: THE LITTLEST REICH (Sonny Laguna and Tommy Wiklund, United States)
How fucking insane was 2018? It was so insane that one of the most fun movie watching experiences of the year was a fucking PUPPET MASTER sequel of all goddamn things.
Essentially a soft reboot of the franchise, the story follows a convention dedicated to collecting Nazi puppets (there are conventions for everything these days) which, predictably, come to live and begin to kill everyone.
If you like your horror trashy, offensive, and gory, oh boy, do I have a winner for you here! The puppets are racist, homophobic, and anti-Semitic and their bigotry comes out in their kills. And what glorious kills they are! This is easily the more violent and graphic movie that came out in 2018.
If you’re into Troma and other similar low-budget trash (I say that in the best way possible), this is an absolute must watch.
5: SORRY TO BOTHER YOU (Boots Riley, United States)
How a film about black call-center workers makes sales using their “white voices” that turns into a grand and surreal critique of capitalism got a mass release completely boggles my mind. Boots Riley (of the fantastic anti-capitalistic funk/hip-hop group, the Coup) has his first turn (and maybe his last) behind the camera in a movie that is smart and just out-and-out strange.
I want to talk about so much of this movie but it’s really best that you just go into this blind. Even the trailers, which seem to show a lot, don’t even hint at how out-there this movie gets.
Funny, insightful, and destined to be a cult classic.
4: THE ENDLESS (Justin Benson and Aaron Moorehead, United States)
I just fucking love the films of Benson and Moorehead. There is no one else out there making movies quite like them. Their previous two works (RESOLUTION and SPRING) made my top ten lists in years past and now with their third film, we are here again.
This time, not only are Benson and Moorehead the writers and directors, but they are also the stars of the movie. They play two brothers who, years ago, escaped what may have been a suicide cult. After getting a video from the cult, they decide to go back to see old friends and family to try to get some sort of closure. The story spins out from there an turns into a cosmic horror journey into the very nature of their reality.
Once again, this genius creative team has delivered a stunningly original work that mashes genres together and creates something visionary. Of all the new voices in genre films in recent years, no creators are as cutting-edge and willing to take chances as Benson and Moorehead. Whatever they do next, I can’t wait to see it.
3: TERRIFIED (Demián Rugna, Argentina)
The scariest movie of 2018.
After a series of very strange and very violent events rock a neighborhood, a group of people began an investigation believing an entire city block is haunted. We’ve seen this basic set up many times before in the horror genre. I do appreciate the little twist that it’s not one house but a whole block that is haunted but we are all familiar with the trope of a team of people investigating a haunting. Where this film shines is in just how effective it is.
Like TRAIN TO BUSAN last year, TERRIFIED takes a well-worn horror set-up and just does it better than almost everyone else that has come before. From the opening scene to the very end, the movie constantly shocks and surprised with supernatural horror and bursts of brutal violence.
Sometimes you don’t need to reinvent the genre to make a great horror movie. Sometimes you just need to be fucking terrifying.
2: DIRECTOR’S CUT (Adam Rifkin, United States)
This is one of the most innovative and original movies I have seen in many years.
Try to keep up with me in describing what this is – a man (play by Penn Jillette of Penn & Teller fame) is part of crowd-funding a low-budget horror movie but is extremely unhappy with how it turned out. So he kidnaps the star of the film (who he is also obsessed with) and make her film new scenes which he splices into the film (also in the process he makes himself the star). We, the viewers, are watching his new edit of the film. And if that wasn’t confusing enough, we’re watching his director’s commentary that would be a bonus feature on the home release.
Written by Penn Jillette, this is a mind-bending deconstruction of the nature of horror tropes, celebrity obsession, and the blurring of who is really in control of production that crowd-funding brings to modern film-making (and, yes, this was crowd-funded), you have never seen a movie presented like this before (if you have, let me know what it was). The layer upon layer of meta-narrative shouldn’t work and yet somehow it all comes together to tell a great story in a truly new way. When was the last time you saw a movie that really was completely different than anything else that has come before?
This is one of the most ambitious and intelligent low-budget features that I’ve seen in a very long time. You may not like it as much as I did, but I guarantee that you’ll agree there’s nothing else like it in the world.
1: A QUIET PLACE (John Krasinski, United States)
I feel dirty right now.
Me, mister underground-low-budget-hardcore-horror-guy, and here I am naming a mass market PG-13 film the best of 2018.
Fuck it, this movie was fantastic.
The movie follows a family in a post-apocalyptic world in which the Earth has been overrun with man-eating monsters that hunt using sound. So the only way to survive is to be as quiet as possible all-the-time. Almost a silent film, the movie takes a large scale end-of-the-world scenario and zooms in to focus on just one family’s battle to live.
Spoiler for the opening scene here – I have to give credit to any mass release film that is willing to start with killing a little kid. When I was in the theater and that happened, I was totally in.
I don’t have much analysis to give here. This was just straight-up wonder Hollywood film-making that reminds you how much fun going to the movies can be. I’ve heard and read some criticism and accusations of plot holes, but nothing I’ve heard really bothered me just because this was just such a fun experience.
My underground street cred be damned, this was the most enjoyable experience I had at the movies all year. It’s just a wild and thrilling ride that will have you on the edge of your seat for 90 minutes and leaving with a smile and feeling revved up on the excitement of film.
What more can you really ask for?
WHAT I’M LOOKING FORWARD TO IN 2019
GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS (Micahel Dougherty, United States)
It’s Godzilla, Rodan, Mothra, and King Ghidorah.
Nuff fucking said.
It’s that time again – my favorite movies of 2017!
Want to see what I liked in previous years? Check out these links:
Another year and a shit ton more awesome movies. Film in 2017 seemed to be dominated by genre mashups. Horror, sci-fi, fantasy, and drama were combined in so many unique and interesting ways this year and those mashups dominated my list of personal favorites.
This was also a year in which horror killed at the box office. SPLIT, GET OUT, and IT were surprise commercial and critical successes on a scale that no one saw coming. But only one of those three made my list.
One thing that was curious to me was this was the first year of doing these lists in which all of my choices were in English. I do watch a lot of foreign films from all over the world but this year all my picks were from English speaking countries. Not sure why, just something interesting that I noticed.
Every year there is some debate in the comments on how I come up with my list, in particular the question of how I determine release dates. Most movies it’s easy to pinpoint the year they were released it but sometimes there’s releases that have festival screenings up to a year before the general audience can see it. If a movie had a limited release last year but the wide wasn’t until this year and that’s how I saw it – I count it. If it had a limited release that I saw but it’s not wide until next year and I saw it – I still count it. It’s not a perfect system but it’s what I got.
With that out of the way, let’s move on to my favorite movies of 2016! Like I said, there was a ton of movies that I liked this year and they couldn’t all be on my top ten. Here’s some that almost made the cut.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: THE VOID, BESETMENT, MAYHEM, HAPPY DEATH DAY, and 1922.
Check out those movies. They were all seriously good. But they weren’t my favorites of 2017.
10: mother! (Darren Aronofsky, United States)
Aronofsky’s latest baffled mainstream audiences and baffled me to how it got a mass release. This is high level surrealism that sits comfortably next to the work of Jodorowsky, Lynch, and Buñuel. Basically a retelling of the entire Bible in the confines of one house but this is no religious epic. It uses it’s framework to explore the nature of art, relationships, and assault the viewer with one epic scene of madness after another. Film geeks will be talking about this one for many years to come.
9: 68 KILL (Trent Haaga, United States)
Based on the novel by acclaimed horror/crime/fucked-up writer Bryan Smith and directed by Trent Haaga who helped give the world twisted masterpieces like DEAD GIRL and TERROR FIRMER. This is one mean film. Chip has a problem with falling for beautiful women who just happen to also be completely psychotic. After a robbery that leaves him questioning his morals, he is sucked down into a world of murder, torture, drugs, snuff films, and all sorts of other depravity. This is a real fun one for the sickos.
8: GET ME ROGER STONE (Dylan Bank, Daniel DiMauro and Morgan Pehme)
Wondering how the world of American politics got so fucked-up? Roger Stone wants you to give him credit for it. A fantastic and horrifying documentary of one of America’s most effective and devious political operatives. This man has been behind the scenes of the Nixon administration, Reagan’s silent majority, G.W.’s failed global wars, and Trump’s rise to power. Stone brags about lying to damage his opponents, stoking fear in the populace, and encouraging hatred of those you disagree with. He seems to have no personal agenda other than winning at any cost. This movie is him gloating to the camera about how effective his tactics are while showing off his Nixon back tattoo (seriously). An essential watch for anyone that wants to understand how America got into the position it is in now.
7: CATFIGHT (Onur Tukel, United States)
Two former college friends have gone in completely different directions in life and when they randomly encounter meet again, they hate each other and get into a fight. This kicks off a story that is about nothing more than vengeance and violence as the two characters ruin each other’s lives over the course of several years. Darkly funny and viciously violent, this is a wonderful low-budget throwback to the sleazy days of the grindhouse.
6: A DARK SONG (Liam Gavin, Ireland)
A man and a woman lock themselves into a house for months to perform a magical ritual to summon the woman’s guardian angel. Because this is a horror film, things don’t go quite right. Based on a “real” ritual that Alister Crowley performed in real life, this is the most “accurate” portrayal of occult practices ever put to film. Moody and deliberately paced, this film takes it’s time to break down reality around the characters and the viewer. If you like slow-burn horror, this is a much watch.
5: BRAWL IN CELL BLOCK 99 (S. Craig Zahler, United States)
The most batshit violent movie of the year! Vince Vaughn stars as a former boxer who ends up in jail. While there is wife is kidnapped and he is blackmailed into being an assassin on the inside if he wants her to live. There is nope hope of getting out, there’s only one insane scene of violence and murder after another. Absolutely breathtaking in its commitment to going over-the-top. A wild ride and an absolute blast to watch. This was THE movie of the year if you’re looking for non-stop carnage.
4: THE SHAPE OF WATER (Guillermo del Toro, United States)
Del Toro may be the most visionary director working in mainstream Hollywood. His latest is a love story between a cleaning lady at a high level military research faculty and a monster that is basically the Creature from the Black Lagoon. Set during the cold war paranoia of the sixties, this film is visually stunning and an emotional joy. Who would have thought that the best feel-good movie of the year would be a romance complete with monster sex? Easily del Toro’s best since PAN’S LABYRINTH.
3: GET OUT (Jordan Peele, United States)
The break-out horror movie of the year is also one of the most culturally and socially relevant horror movies in quite a long time. Taking inspiration from the paranoid sci-fi horrors of the seventies like THE STEPFORD WIVES and INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, Peele explores the current day race issues of modern America. A white girl brings home her black boyfriend to meet the family but something is very wrong. To say more would spoil this innovative and just plain fun tale of horror. This brutal satire of “post-racial” liberalism has catapulted director/writer Peele to one of the most exciting new voices in genre film.
2: DAVE MADE A MAZE (Bill Watterson, United States)
In many ways this is the best adaptation of HOUSE OF LEAVES that we didn’t know we wanted. While his girlfriend is away for the weekend a man builds a cardboard maze in his living room but becomes lost in it. When his girlfriend comes home she amasses a group of friends to venture inside and save him from his own creation. A brilliant and imaginative story about artistic creation and how it can consume you and everyone you love. What really makes this movie stand-out is the insanely brilliant set-designs and effects that are all done practical and in camera with cardboard, yarn, and string. The most bizarro movie of the year is also one of the most visually original films in decades. An absolute triumph of low-budget ingenuity.
1: COLOSSAL (Nacho Vigalondo, United States)
The most stunningly original film of the year. A woman who has wrecked her life due to alcohol goes back to her hometown to try and start over. There she discovers that when she stands in a specific playground at a specific time, a giant monster appears in South Korea that mimics all her movements. This film was sold as a quirky comedy, and while it does have it humorous moments, this film takes it absurd premise deathly serious. The movie is a dark and depressing exploration of addiction, depression, abuse, the need to be loved, and how one deals with a life that is a failure. Easily the most emotionally raw film of the year that tackles personal fears through giant monsters.
WHAT I’M LOOKING FORWARD TO IN 2018
THE ENDLESS (Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead)
Benson and Moorhead are two of the most excited new creative voices in horror. They are responsible for the mind-blowing RESOLUTION and SPRING. The third film has been touring the festival circuit but I was unable to see it. Hopefully in 2018 I can unfuck that.
So that’s my list for 2017. Agree? Think I’m full of shit? Let me know in the comments.
It’s that time again – my favorite movies of 2016!
Want to see what I liked in previous years? Check out these links:
I said last year was an amazing year for movies but this year was even better and narrowing down to a top ten was even harder! We really seem to be entering a wonderful period of original genre films. No matter your taste or style preference, there had to be something this year that really got you off.
It seemed that much of the genre discussion this year focused on big budget sequels, remakes, and adaptations. But while the latest Marvel and STAR WARS flicks dominated the box office there was a ton of great original work in horror, sci-fi, fantasy, and just straight-up weirdo shit. There was so much great work that my list for this year’s top ten initially had around 30 movies on it (I keep track of every new movie I see and enjoy in some way).
Now I know there’s a lot of you wondering why I thought this year was so good. Mass release films were shit. If you only went to the multiplex I understand why you’d think this year was lackluster—but, holy shit, did VOD kill. For good or bad, the role that indie theaters use to fill is slowly being taken over by VOD. Personally, I think it’s a great thing as it seems to me that every year more and more adventurous releases come out and this year knocked it out of the park in ways I did not anticipate.
At this point in time, if you have an internet connection and complain that there’s no new good shit coming out—you’re straight-up not looking.
Every year there is some debate in the comments on how I come up with my list, in particular the question of how I determine release dates. Most movies it’s easy to pinpoint the year they were released it but sometimes there’s releases that have festival screenings up to a year before the genre audience can see it. If a movie had a limited release last year but the wide wasn’t until this year and that’s how I saw it – I count it. If it had a limited release that I saw but it’s not wide until next year and I saw it – I still count it. It’s not a perfect system but it’s what I got.
With that out of the way, let’s move on to my favorite movies of 2016! Like I said, there was a ton of movies that I liked this year and they couldn’t all be on my top ten. Here’s some that almost made the cut.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: THE WITCH, SWISS ARMY MAN, ALL THE WAY, SIREN, ASSINATION CLASSROOM: GRADUATION, HOLIDAYS, THE GREASY STRANGLER, YOGA HOSERS, SAUSAGE PARTY, and SHIN GODZILLA
Check out those movies. They were all seriously good. But they weren’t my favorites of 2016.
10: THE ALCHEMIST COOKBOOK (Joel Potrykus, United States)
A man goes into the woods to use science and metaphysics in an attempt to summon dark forces. While that may sound like something you’ve seen/read many times before this movie takes an original spin via the main character’s perspective. Instead of the normal middle/upper class white college student/scientist this story stars a young black man who is a self-taught intellectual from the inner city. How his background comes to impact him throughout the course of the story provides a fresh and unique perspective on a genre-theme stable.
This will have you guessing until the end at what’s really going on. When it gets to the climax and everything comes together, oh man, does it pay off good.
I also want to give a shout-out to the wonderfully atmospheric and desolate directing. Absolutely fantastic atmospheric horror.
9: HARDCORE HENRY (Ilya Naishuller, Russia/United States)
This is just pure non-stop over the top action from beginning to end. That it’s filmed in first person perspective via cameras in the main character’s eyeballs and basically happens in real time has earned it a comparison to being a video game on film. That’s kinda accurate but instead of computer generate characters it’s almost all practical effects and stunts done in camera.
The movie opens with Henry, a recently awakened cyborg and the audience’s eyes, dropping 50,000 from floating military compound and it only gets more insane with each passing scene. Wait until you see one of the most memorable and…unorthodox, shall I say without giving some fun away, strangulation scenes ever put to film.
8: THE INVITATION (Karyn Kusama, United States)
A man and his girlfriend are going to a dinner party hosted by his ex-wife and her new husband with some old and new friend in attendance. While they are there the man begins to suspect that something is very wrong.
This is basically a one-set thriller in the tradition of classic Hitchcock films. The brilliant writing and character dialogue will have you constantly on the edge of knowing what’s going on but never really sure.
It’s a slow burn but it’s a goddamn powder keg when it finally goes off.
7: WEINER (Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg, United States)
The best documentary about U.S. politics ever made.
You might remember Anthony Weiner as the politician who got in trouble for accidently posting pictures of his dick on twitter. What you may not remember was that at one point he was predicted to be one of the rising stars in U.S. politics. American is quick to forgive sexual transgressions of politicians and Weiner was ready to run for Mayor of NYC. A film crew was given full fly-on-the-wall access to his campaign and family for his redemption story. And then he got busted again for sending out pictures of his junk and everything in his professional and personal life beings to unravel.
Never before had we seen such an intimate view of campaign politics, how someone’s personal flaws can tear it all apart, and how it affects everyone around him.
6: 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE (Dan Trachtenberg, United States)
After a car wreck a woman wakes to find herself in an underground bunker with two other men. They tell her that they rescued her but she can’t leave due to some sort of “attack” that has made the air outside dangerous. They don’t know what happened but they have ideas—and she’d definitely is not allowed to leave.
This movie is goddamn intense and you’ll have no idea who to trust at any time. All three of the main actors are fantastic with John Goodman having the stand-out role as the shelter builder and the unknown to her and the viewer savior or villain.
Despite the title this movie has nothing to do with the CLOVERFIELD giant monster movie. It seems they are now making some sort of TWILIGHT ZONEish anthology series and if future installments will be of this level of quality I am all in.
5: TRAIN TO BUSAN (Yeon Sang-ho, South Korea)
I don’t give a fuck how sick of zombie movies you are—you need to see this!
A train is going from Seoul, South Korea to Busan, South Korea. Shortly after they leave the station the zombie apocalypse happens. The entire movie is about their journey. I know you think you’ve seen this before but you really haven’t. What this movie lacks in original concepts it makes up by doing every other aspect better than any zombie movie that has come before. The attack scenes are among the craziest and most intense zombie scenes ever put to film. The effects are amazing. The plot is brilliant. And, most amazingly, the characters are real, deep, and you will care about them.
In a subgenre that we all want to go away this movie does the unthinkable—it shows us everything we’ve seen before in a brand new way.
4: HIGH-RISE (Ben Wheatley, Britain)
I’m not really a fan of director Ben Wheatley or the novels of J.G. Ballard but this combination of the unique styles just really worked for me.
In the 1970’s a rich man moves into a high rise apartment building in which the floors are divided by class (poor on the bottom, rich on the top). The building is completely self-contained with everything a person could want. But one day, for no reason, nobody living there can bring themselves to leave and nobody who doesn’t live there can bring themselves to enter. With no food or maintenance coming in the building it all quickly falls into bizarre anarchy.
This film reminded me so much of classic 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s high-concept surrealism. Fuck, the plot is basically an update of Buñuel’s THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL. You don’t see too many movies like that anymore so it’s so great to see this.
3: THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE (André Øvredal, United States)
The sophomore film from the director of TROLLHUNTER couldn’t be more different than his first. Instead of a found footage creature feature we have a beautifully shot horror mystery. It starts with a bizarre crime scene and a mysterious body—the Jane Doe of the title. The entire movie revolves around the autopsy of the unidentified victim and the impossible things the medical examiners find.
With each strange thing they find you’ll become more and more sucked into the bizarre plot and then when the movie reveals what it’s all about I guarantee you’ll get a few shock and shivers.
It’s creepy but it’s not a slow burn. It’s graphic but it’s not exploitive—but this movie is about an autopsy after all. There’s jump scares but it’s never cheap. This has everything but never leans too heavily on one aspect of horror. It’s a brilliant mash-up of styles that will keep you constantly on the edge of your seat.
This is the scariest and most fun horror movie of the year.
After these two extremely different but amazing horror films, I can hardly wait to see what Øvredal does next.
2: BASKIN (Can Evrenol, Turkey)
Fuck yeah! This is the hardcore horror flick of the year!
The plot is about a bunch of cops who get sucked into Hell and…well, that’s really it. But this movie isn’t about an intricate and complex plot, this is about placing a group of characters in an insanely surreal and nightmarish scenario and watching how they do or do not deal with it.
And holy shit is this nightmarish!
Remember those scenes from Hell in EVENT HORIZON? That’s what the last hour of this movie is like. Just one weird and strange moment of torture, gore, and perversion after another—the bestiality scene is amazingly creative and horrific. I just wanted to warn you that this movie doesn’t hold back.
This may just sound like dumb torture porn but it’s anything but dumb. The acting, directing, set-design, dialogue, special effects—everything is incredibly well-done and made by people at the top of the horror filmmaking craft. This is the most beautiful and effective journey into Hell since HELLBOUND: HELLRAISER 2.
This movie isn’t for everyone but if you’re a sicko like me you’re gonna love it!
1: GREEN ROOM (Jeremy Saulnier, United States)
The best punks versus Nazis movie ever made!
A punk band on tour in the Pacific NW plays at a Nazi skinhead bar and witnesses something terrible. Trapped in the back of the club, the band must do everything they can to survive and get out while the Nazi skins do everything they can to kill them.
This is seriously one of the most intense movies I’ve ever seen. This is not an adrenalin action flick—this is a dark and violent cat and mouse game with each side doing everything they can to outwit the other. But when it gets violent—holy shit! This isn’t like most movies were the blood splatters and you cheer. In this when people get hurt they suffer and you see in all in very graphic detail. I wouldn’t really call it gory but when it gets violent it doesn’t flinch from showing the ugliness of real world violence.
And I’ve got to give mention to the two stand-out acting roles of all the movies I saw this year. Patrick Stewart plays a rare villain role as the Nazi leader that is just wonderfully refined evil. Plus Anton Yelchin stars as the lead singer of the punk band in one of his last roles before his untimely death. His character bounces back a forth between tough-ass punk singer to scared as shit victim and his performance is fantastically vulnerable and even touching at points.
Fun Fact: Broken River Books head-editor and bizarro/crime author J. David Osbourne has a cameo in the crowd during the mosh-pit scene as a skin. Lazy Fascist Press head-editor and bizarro/fish fiction author Cameron Pierce filmed a scene as a skin in Stewart’s gang but the scene was apparently cut.
WHAT I’M LOOKING FORWARD TO IN 2017
KONG: SKULL ISLAND (Jordan Vogt-Roberts, United States)
I’m a devoted fan of giant monster movies and I’m a huge fan of the KING KONG franchise. This one looks absolutely amazing.
So that’s my list for 2016. Agree? Think I’m full of shit? Let me know in the comments.
It’s getting close to the Halloween season and the time of year in which everyone goes nuts for horror. It’s also the time of year in which people start trying to figure out what their 31 Days of Halloween movie list will be. Any self-respecting horror fan knows that this is the season for NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and A NIGHTMARE OF ELM STREET but what if you are looking for recommendations that aren’t the most famous examples of the genre?
I find it frustrating looking for “underrated” horror recommendations. Most of the time it is lists that includes movies like MARTYRS, SUSPIRIA, or AUDITION. Come on! Every single horror fan has seen those movies (if you haven’t, you’re a horror novice). With that in mind, I tried to create a list of horror movies that most self-identified horror fans actually haven’t seen. There are ghost movies, creature features, and hardcore gore flicks here. No matter where your tastes to the genre lay, there’s bound to be a few on this list that you’ll dig and haven’t seen – yet.
FIEND WITHOUT A FACE – Arthur Crabtree, United Kingdom, 1958
(Classic Hollywood Creature Feature)
Invisible aliens that eat nuclear energy and steal human brains and spinal columns to use as bodies are invading!
Everybody loves a good old-fashioned monster movie but so few have seen this great and crazy independent production. While the classic Universal and Hammer films still enjoy popularity this one has slipped into obscurity (even with the Criterion Collection backing it). It’s drenched with classic 50’s paranoia and nuclear war themes but what really makes this stand-out is the amazing monster design. Disembodies brains with antennas and spines for tails are brought to life with wonderful stop-motion animation.
There’s a special charm to the horror of this era and FIEND WITHOUT A FACE is a great demonstration of that aesthetic.
SOLE SURVIVOR – Thom Eberhardt, United States, 1983
(Before FINAL DESTINATION and IT FOLLOWS There Was This)
This is a really cool little gem from the 80’s that seems to be just now finding its audience. A woman is the sole survivor of a plane crash. As she goes back to her life she begins to suffer from “survivor’s syndrome” – an overwhelming feeling that she should have died. Then strange silent people begin to stalk her as she suspects “death” is coming to claim her.
Oddly overlooked when it was released, horror fans are beginning to embrace this almost direct combination of FINAL DESTINATION and IT FOLLOWS – that was just made decades before them. A suspenseful and engaging slow-burn that culminates with a completely out of left field (in a good way) third act.
ANGUISH aka ANGUSTIA – Bigas Luna, Spain, 1988
(A Movie That Is Really More Frightening Now Than When It Was Released)
For the first twenty minutes of this movie you’re going to be wondering why I recommend it. It starts off really cheesy and bad but at about the one third point something happens and it all beings to make sense. Then when the real movie starts you’ll be filled with dread as you realize where this is all headed.
This is the very rare movie that is more disturbing now than when it was released. When this was made the plot was just a horrible fantasy but the events have come true in modern day United States. Trust me, go into this one blind. Don’t read any descriptions or watch any trailers as they give away the twists and reveal the “real” plot.
Every other movie on this list but two get a trailer. This is the first one that you really shouldn’t watch the trailer for.
GHOSTWATCH – Stephen Volk, United Kingdom, 1992
(“Live TV” Gone So Very Wrong)
This movie is a wonderful surprise considering how many strikes it has against itself. It’s made-for-TV, it’s a mockumentary, and large segments are straight-up found footage. No matter your opinions on those techniques, you gotta check this out if you’re looking for a seriously creepy movie.
The BBC is doing a live Halloween broadcast of a supernatural investigation into a supposedly haunted house. The movie cuts back and forth from the studio with the “show’s” host and various guests to the location crew. It shouldn’t be a surprise that everything goes wrong (this is a horror movie) but not in the ways you would guess. This movies goes in some very unexpected directions. Seeing this when it first aired must have been crazy as the BBC did not advertise that the Halloween special was a “movie.”
For this one I don’t have the trailer but you can watch the entire movie on YouTube here:
NECRONOMICON – Brian Yuzna, Christophe Gans and Shusuke Kaneko,
United States, 1993
(90’s Cthulhu Mythos Special Effects Extravaganza)
Considering how popular movies based on H.P. Lovecraft stories and the Cthulhu Mythos have become, I’m always shocked that this movie isn’t more well-known. Hell, this flick has never even been released on DVD.
A three story anthology with segments loosely based on the stories “the Rats in the Walls,” “Cool Air,” and “the Whisper in the Darkness.” Each story has that 90’s low budget horror feel. Monsters and mad scientists fill every minute of the movie and there’s even a giant Cthulhu made with practical effects.
Plus a great wrap-around story starring Jeffrey Combs as H.P. Lovecraft investigating the fabled Necronomicon at Miskatonic University make this a ton of horror fun.
DAY OF THE BEAST aka EL DÍA DE LA BESTIA – Álex de la Iglesia, Spain, 1995
(80’s Style Satanic Adventure)
A priest becomes convinced that the Anti-Christ is about to be born and he must make contact with the devil to stop this from happening. He enlists a metalhead to help him commit as many sins as he can in order to sell his soul and double-cross the prince of darkness. After also getting the help of a TV host who specializes in the occult, the trio go on a drug-fueled adventure to save humanity from Hell.
This movie is SO much fun! If you long for the days of 80’s tongue-in-cheek adventure horror (think RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD and RE-ANIMATOR) you’ll love this. Bright psychedelic colors and non-stop satanic imagery make this movie go down great with a few beers.
And who doesn’t want to watch a priest push random people down subway steps?
DEADGIRL – Marcel Sarmiento and Gadi Harel, UNITED STATES, 2008
(Young Boys and a Chained-Up Zombie Chick – It Goes Bad)
This one’s fucking grim.
A group of high school boys discover a naked chained-up zombie chick in an abandoned house. After some debate the boys decide that they aren’t going to tell anyone and they are going to use the zombie as their sex slave. This movie takes the concept of an adolescent male sex fantasy and turns it into a dark and disturbing tale of how far people will go when nobody’s watching.
Written by Trent Haaga who is best known for his work on the playful gore flick made by Troma studios but there’s no sign of Troma’s joy on display here. This is just pure pitch-black hardcore horror.
TRIANGLE – Christopher Smith, United Kingdom, 2009
(Completely Mind-Blowing Horror/Sci-Fi Trip)
A group of friends go out for a summer sailing trip. When a sudden freak storm trashes their boat they are left stranded at sea. They think they are saved when an ocean liner shows up but then they discover that the ship is abandoned. Or at least they think it is…
TRIANGLE is one of those wonderful unsung gems that once you watch it you have to recommend it to everyone you know. The problem is what makes this movie truly excellent is all things I can’t tell you about. The joy to this movie is watching its mysteries slowly develop and how every time you think you know what is “really” going on the movie pulls the rug out from under you.
This is another movie that gives away the twists in the trailer so I can’t share it with you.
GROTESQUE aka GUROTESUKU – Kôji Shiraishi, Japan, 2009
(Seriously Fucked-Up Shit)
A young couple are kidnapped on their first date by a crazy “doctor.” They awake tied down to gurneys and the man begins his psychological and physical torture. No film on this list is more appropriately named – this is a truly grotesque straight-up gore flick. In order to enjoy this one you gotta be the type of person OK with eyeball popping, genital torture, and mutilation to every part of the body in-between.
This one goes so far over-the-top in its violence that numerous retailers around the world have refused to sell it and the movie is officially banned in the U.K. (that’s right – they still ban movies).
DREAM HOME – Pang Ho-cheung, Hong Kong, 2010
(Gore/Home Invasion Ramped-Up to 11)
A woman has been saving to purchase her “dream” apartment but right when she’s going to close the deal it all falls apart. This breaks her and she goes on a vicious murder spree through the apartment building she wanted to live in.
Intense, action-packed, gory as all Hell – this is one wild ride. Some of the gore effects and set-pieces are jaw-dropping in how far they go. It moves with the break-neck speed Hong Kong action movies are known for but how it compliments that with exploitation sensibilities is what really makes DREAM HOME stand-out.
HELLDRIVER aka HERUDORAIBĀ – Yoshihiro Nishimura, Japan, 2010
(Japanese Weirdo Action Gore Freak-Out)
From the “Tom Savini of Japan” who brought the world the amazing TOKYO GORE POLICE comes another modern classic of Japanese splatter. A meteor brings a zombie epidemic to Japan but these aren’t no ordinary zombies – they are fast, can think (sort of), and can even combine their body parts to make organic cars and planes.
The story focuses on a group of people attempting to track down the “head” zombie but, honestly, plot isn’t the big focus here. The movie is much more concerned with its crazy special effects and set-pieces that feel like they were pulled directly out of an anime.
DETENTION – Joseph Kahn, United States, 2011
(Smart Bizarro Teen Horror/Sci-Fi/Comedy)
I almost don’t even know where to begin with this movie – that’s how fucking insane it is.
It innocuously starts off as a story about a group of teens in detention being hunted by a serial killer. But soon time travel, body swapping, and even a grizzly bear from outer space turn this into one of the most fun genre-bending flicks you’ll ever see. Funny, smart, and completely unafraid to go balls-to-the-wall insane at a moment’s notice.
Imagine if Carlton Mellick III wrote SCREAM and got Lloyd Kaufman to direct. That’s what DETENTION is like.
INBRED – Alex Chandon, United Kingdom, 2011
(Sadistic Hillbilly Horror with a Smile)
I love torture porn and this was one that completely passed me by on first release. It enjoys a cult-following in the U.K. but was sadly missed by the sickos in the rest of the world.
A group of students are trapped by townspeople in the middle-of-nowhere and are forced to perform in a gruesome live circus/snuff show. This is the type of shit that would fill H.G. Lewis with glee and will leave the gore-hounds howling. You can practically feel how much fun the director is having putting the characters through pure hell.
If you like your horror mean-spirited, gory, and action-packed, boy do I have one for you here!
THE BAY – Barry Levinson, United States, 2012
(Eco-Horror and the Best Argument for the Found Footage Format)
Found footage gets a lot of shit – and rightly so. Overwhelming it is a technique to hide poor filmmaking and a complete lack of competent character writing. Due to the overwhelming laziness in most uses of the filmmaking technique (quick pet peeve – FF is a filmmaking technique NOT a genre) most viewers outright dismiss any movie using it.
Which is what makes THE BAY so brilliant – it shows what everyone else is doing wrong and tells a story that could only be told by using FF. A deadly parasite infects the water of the Chesapeake Bay and leads to an environmental disaster. The viewer is placed on the front lines as the movie uses phone videos, security camera footage, Skype calls, news footage, and more to detail the deaths of hundreds.
COHERENCE – James Ward Byrkit, United Kingdom, 2013
(A Dinner Party in the Twilight Zone)
A group of friends are having a dinner party when a blackout occurs. They make the best of it but begin to get bored and suspicious. When they go outside they see one house up the street has power. They investigate and so kicks off a surreal nightmare that would have made Rod Serling proud.
This is a fantastic example of how a clever artist can accomplish so much with so very little. With just a budget of $50,000, the movie uses ingenious tricks to melt-down reality with just a properly placed knock at the door or just a simple piece of paper.
LANDMINE GOES CLICK – Levan Bakhia, United States, 2015
(Just Pure Cruel Fucked-Up Shit)
Three American tourists are on a hiking trip when one of them steps on a landmine. What at first seems like an accident quickly becomes apparent that it is not. Now trapped on top of an explosive device, the tourist must figure out how he will survive.
This may sound like that is just an action thriller but make no mistake – this is nasty hardcore horror. Torture and sexual violence make this into one mean-spirited piece of cinema. And just when you think you know where everything is going, the movie completely turns on its head.
RESOLUTION – Justin Benson and Aaron Scott Moorehead, United States, 2012
(Paranoia and Cosmic Horror In The Middle Of Nowhere – With Meth)
Benson and Moorehead are quickly becoming hot on the indy horror scene. 2014’s romance horror hybrid, SPRING, drummed up a ton of praise on the festival circuit but their skill was already apparent with their 2011 debut.
A guy gets a message from his former best friend who is now living strung-out on drugs in the woods. He goes there with an extreme plan to help him – he’s going to handcuff his friend to the wall, take care of him, and once the detox is over give him a choice to go back to drugs or come back to the city with him. But there’s other people and things in the woods that is going to make his plan a lot more difficult.
This low budget marvel starts off as a kind of sleazy thriller but evolves into Lovecraftian cosmic horror. It’s truly amazing how much the directors were able to pull off with so little. This movie also features my all-time favorite zero-budget scare.
So there’s my recommendations for you! I hope you seek out the ones that sound interesting to you and give more exposure to these overlooked horror gems.
In October I will be doing my own 31 Days of Horror in which I’ll be watching and writing short reviews on 31 movies that I haven’t seen. You’ll be able to follow my progress at www.JeffBurk.wordpress.com
Happy Haunting, everyone!
It’s that time again – my favorite movies of 2015! But if you want to see what I liked previous years, check out these links:
Wow, 2015 was an amazing year for movies. I don’t think I’ve ever had such a hard time narrowing down to ten favorite films. This was a year that genre films ruled – horror, sci-fi, fantasy, and action all got amazing contributions to their field.
After an extremely weak showing in 2014, horror bounced back this year. While art-horror family dramas are still receiving all the buzz (I’m looking at you, GOODNIGHT, MOMMY) there was plenty of weirdo, gory, and transgressive movies being released in the underground. Hell, there were so many that I didn’t even get to see everything I wanted to this year (namely a ton of underground Japanese movies that I wasn’t aware of until the end of the year).
Mainstream mass release movies were also bit by the genre bug this year with MAD MAX, THE AVENGERS, and STAR WARS dominating the box office and best-of lists (but none of those movies are on my top ten). It’s hard to miss the fact that those three movies are all sequels. I frequently hear people bemoan the number of sequels and remakes released and that “there’s no new ideas.” In reality, there’s plenty of original and great movies coming out – you just have to look for them/actually watch them. I was very pleased when I realized that my top ten list doesn’t have a single sequel or remake.
In terms of original filmmaking, 2015 may have been the best year of the 10’s thus far.
Enough buildup, let’s get to the list!
HONORABLE MENTIONS OF 2015: THE VOICES, IT FOLLOWS, GOING CLEAR: SCIENTOLOGY AND THE PRISON OF BELIEF, CAM GIRLZ, EX MACHINA, THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE 3, ATTACK ON TITAN, UNFRIENDED, THE VISIT, and DEEP DARK.
All those movies listed above are worth checking out – there was just so much good shit this year! But I had to have favorites, and here they are:
10: CHAPPIE (Neill Blomkamp, United States)
We got two sci-fi movies this year that dealt with the concept of artificial intelligence. EX MACHINA was the critical darling and I get why – it’s technically excellent. But I preferred CHAPPIE. While EM stuck to one aspect of A.I. to explore it fully, CHAPPIE gloriously throws everything against the wall and doesn’t give a shit if it sticks – family, religion, government, law, personal responsibility, and tons more weighty topics are hit one after another in a movie over-flowing with ideas and passion.
Plus, Die Antwood playing the main characters was the most inspired casting of any film this year.
9: EVERLY (Joe Lynch, United States)
Joe Lynch (KNIGHTS OF BADASSDOM) finally returns and this time he has a movie that he actually had full control of! Salma Hayek plays a prostitute (Everly) who is targeted by the Yakuza after they discover she has been working with the police. What follows is ninety minutes of pure blood-soaked chaos. Lynch shows what a creative mind can do with a relatively low budget and amazingly sets almost the entire movie in one room and hallway. The limited sets and claustrophobic feeling only add to the desperation as Everly fights off wave after wave of attackers.
In a year in which female stars in action movies got a lot of attention, EVERLY went sadly beneath most viewers’ radar. Fuck Furiosa. Fuck Rey. Everly was the most badass woman on the silver screen this year.
8: CLOWN (Jon Watts, United States/Canada)
I love movies like this, an absolutely ridiculous premise but played deathly serious. The movie is about a man who puts on a demon-possessed clown costume and now he is turning into a clown/demon with a taste for children. As absurd as that sounds, the movie never goes for laughs and instead embraces the surreal terror of the situation. This was the surprise body-horror hit of the year for me. If you dig twisted shit like early Cronenberg, TUSK, or the HUMAN CENTIPEDE series – you need to check this out.
Plus, the entire movie is about killing children. Which I always argue we need more of in film.
7: CALL ME LUCKY (Bobcat Goldthwait, United States)
Who would have thought that a documentary made by Bobcat Goldthwait about stand-up comedian Barry Crimmins would be the darkest film of the year. The movie starts off as a documentary about a comedian but then the viewer finds out about a violent rape Crimmins suffered as a child. The documentary shifts then into the story of Crimmins being one of the first people to begin to expose the predatory online practices of pedophiles.
By the end of this movie you will be furious at law enforcement, organized religion, and internet providers that all “allowed” more children to become victims. This is powerful, disturbing, and, yet by the end, strangely life-affirming.
Goldthwait has been proving himself over recent years to be one of the most interesting working filmmakers out there (GOD BLESS AMERICA, WORLD’S GREATEST DAD, and SLEEPING DOGS LIE) and this is his best, and heaviest, yet.
6: KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE (Matthew Vaughn, United States/United Kingdom)
From the wonderfully crass and over-the-top combination of Matthew Vaughn and Mark Millar (that gave up the glorious KICK-ASS series) comes another ultra-violent destruction of genre tropes. This time they set their eyes on James Bond and other spy movies. They ramp up the sexism, nationalism, and violence of the spy genre to eleven to create a vicious satire pointing out how fucked-up those movies are. Crass, irreverent, and gleefully nihilistic – if more spy movies were like this, I might actually care about the genre.
And the church fight was one of the best scenes in any movie this year.
5: WE ARE STILL HERE (Ted Geoghegan, United States)
This was a wonderful horror shocker that seemed to come out of nowhere. A haunted house story with some very, very gory surprises. I can’t say much about the plot without spoiling things but I haven’t seen a movie in many years that invoked so much of the feel of the 70’s and 80’s Italian horror. Nightmare logic, surreal villains, and vicious violence made this the best straight-up horror film of the year.
It feels so much like a lost Fulci film. Seriously, what else do I need to say?
4: DUDE BRO PARTY MASSACRE III (Tomm Jacobsen, Michael Rousselet, and Jon Salmon, United States)
From the people behind 5-Second Films comes the greatest slasher parody of all-time. Presenting itself as a lost movie from the 80’s, this movie hilariously deconstructs and gender-flips every trope from the era to create movie where you truly have no idea what will happen from minute to minute.
I could go on and on about the creative brilliance on display here but that would take away from the film’s many surprises. If you like stupidly clever, low-budget trash (think Troma and Astron-6), you’ll love this movie.
3: WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS (Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi, New Zealand)
Considering that this movie is practically on everyone’s top ten of the year list, I don’t have much to add to the conversation. Other than the fact that there’s a reason this was on everyone’s list – it’s easily the funniest movie of the year. If, somehow, you haven’t heard of this vampire mockumentary, unfuck that and watch the trailer below.
2: YAKUZA APOCALYPSE (Takashi Miike, Japan
Takashi Miike (ICHI: THE KILLER, HAPPINESS OF THE KATAKURIS, DEAD OR ALIVE, and many more) finally returns to his weirdo cult roots and gives us a film packed with vampires, martial arts, and the world’s greatest terrorist wearing a full-body frog costume. This is a special type of movie for a special type of person – most people would HATE this movie. But if you’re like me and enjoy absurdism, nonsensical violence, and scenes over-flowing with pure weird, you’ll find a lot to love here.
1: SPRING (Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, United States)
Here we are, my favorite movie of the year and it’s a romance. Seriously.
SPRING is the second film from the genius writer/director pair that gave us RESOLUTION (which is one of my favorite horror movies of the past few years) and they have returned with a film that is truly something special and completely unique. Combing romance with pure Lovecraftian cosmic horror in a manner that neither genre overwhelms the other was a balancing act that should be impossible but, somehow, SPRING nails it.
I wish I could tell you more but it is really best to go into this movie blind. Great acting, amazing cinematography, gorgeous sets, and a fantastic script made this into the standout of the year for me.
Between RESOLUTION and now SPRING, Benson and Moorhead are at the top of my list of new horror filmmakers to keep an eye on.
WHAT AM I LOOKING FORWARD TO IN 2016
ABATTOIR (Darren Lynn Bousman, United States)
I’m a sucker for a good haunted house movie and ABATTOIR has one of the most original spins on the concept that I’ve ever heard. It’s about someone who “makes” a haunted house by taking rooms from other houses that were the scenes of violent crimes and assembling them together into a new house. It’s such a simple and brilliant idea. There’s no release date yet but I’m hoping I don’t have to wait too long to see it.
So that’s my list for 2015. Agree? Think I’m full of shit? Let me know in the comments.
And before everyone starts asking, I didn’t like MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (yep, there are people that didn’t like that movie) and I didn’t see STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS (I’m more of STAR TREK and DOCTOR WHO kinda guy).
Deadite Press head editor, Jeff Burk (Shatnerquake, Super Giant Monster Time, Cripple Wolf, and Shatnerquest), has started a new podcast about weirdo artists, strange creators, bizarre performers, and shit he thinks is cool.
The first five episodes are now live and feature interviews with Andrew Goldfarb, MP Johnson,.Pedro Proença, and Veronica Chaos.
Readings from Cameron Pierce, Rios De La Luz, J David Osborne, Matthew T. Granberry, and Nathan Carson.
Plus music from The Slow Poisoner, Anti-Venöm, Mandy De Sandra, The Stupid Stupid Henchmen, and the world premiere of a brand new song from Night Gaunts!
Why The Human Centipede 3 Might Be Smarter and More Interesting Than the Book You’re Writing and What You Can Do About It
A lot of people told me it would be a bad idea to write a blog post using The Human Centipede 3 to dispense writing advice. So I sewed them together. It’s clearly something that’s done nowadays. Sewing human beings together anus to mouth? Pretty commonplace. Nobody told me I shouldn’t do this. That was a joke. But anyway, you probably think an article full of writing advice using this series is perverse, stupid and a waste of time. The Human Centipede looks like a poo joke that has gone on way too long and should be probably have been shut down…well, three films ago. In certain ways, the film’s writer and director Tom Six would agree with you. Making a movie about a human centipede is, as an idea, about as viable as making an actual human centipede.
Thing is, I saw The Human Centipede 3 and it surprised me a lot. The Human Centipede 3 might be better than the book you’re working on right now. It might be smarter, funnier and more thoughtful. It might have more compelling characters. It might have more tenable and interesting central themes. It might be braver, more intense and more “fun” (everyone’s idea of fun is different. If this makes you projectile vomit, you ain’t havin’ fun). I’m not saying your book is garbage or obsessed with scatology or that it would be better if it was but this film has some lessons to teach.
It doesn’t matter what a protagonist is up to, you should be rooting for them
The first thing I noticed about The Human Centipede 3 is that you apparently have nobody to root for. The film is set in a prison, whose warden, Bill Boss (Dieter Laser) is like the maniacal lovechild of Charlie Sheen and The Red Skull, with some Boss Hogg thrown in for good measure. He’s a screaming, violent, torture obsessed, clitoris eating (yes, literally that) creep. There is nothing admirable or beautiful about this man. He is one of the most fearsome monsters our penal system could possibly create.
But his longsuffering accountant (played by Laurence Harvey) has a vision and a mission. The film begins with him showing the warden the first two films in the franchise and telling him he has an idea. You know what this character’s idea is. You should be inwardly squirming. Or maybe, if you’re watching this movie to see a Human Centipede (as opposed to watching it to hear the dulcet tones of Bing Crosby) then you’re excited. You watch this character constantly hassled, neglected, shouted at and turned down. He becomes an underdog determined to refine a system that he believes is flawed and disgusting. When you see the warden cause a great deal of carnage and torture, you can see that he certainly is.
The film makes you feel sad for this man. It makes you wonder what the hell is wrong with this warden and it makes you angry that he is not listening to the idea that will change everything. The power to change the world the viewer is inhabiting now falls on the shoulders of this character, who openly displays compassion for the boss’ sexually exploited secretary, who is telling him that torture doesn’t work and is trying to encourage some modicum of stability and sanity. And all this poor, tortured, misunderstood and sensitive creatures wants is a chance to prove himself by sewing several hundred people together ass to mouth.
Wait, what? Are you actually feeling bad for and sitting around waiting for the triumph of a guy who wants to sew several hundred people together ass to mouth? This man has all the traits of a feel good underdog hero. He is beleaguered, he is surrounded by evil people, he is working to change an oppressive system and he needs to reach someone to be heard. This guy is Nikolai Tesla, a man with a dream of a better future who is being stomped on by a corrupt system. He is shouted down so many times for so long, that it doesn’t matter anymore what it is that he has to say, he has become somehow sympathetic.
Characters we love are people we follow the gates of Hell. Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark is a womanizing drunk firmly entrenched in the military/industrial complex who is trying to save the world with killer robots and a semilegal suit of armor that fires bursts of energy. Enid of Daniel Clowes’ Ghost World is a jaded, cruel, narcissistic, condescending antisocial teen who is twice as mean as any of the people around her and yet she has become a role model and hero to many disenfranchised young women. Al Pacino’s Tony Montana is a guy who we end up feeling for and hoping that he’ll clean up his life and come out on top…even though he deals cocaine and chopped up a guy with a chainsaw that one time. Hell, Bill Moseley and Sid Haig as Otis Driftwood and Captain Spaulding in Rob Zombie’s The Devil’s Rejects have enough charisma and defiant revolutionary rhetoric that we watch them maim, rape and murder people for two minutes and some of us somehow hope they’ll come out alive. How much can your characters be forgiven for? Will we be curious and sympathetic as they go through their lives on the page? Showing a crooked system, normalized violence and a very identifiable feeling of powerlessness and unimportance makes Bennett someone who you almost root for. Have you done enough to make your characters fascinating and sympathetic or do they fall short? Tom Six had an extremely tough job in getting you to feel for Bennett. That takes skill.
It Explores a Theme From Several Angles
I must admit, I was not a fan of this franchise before seeing the third one. I felt as if the theme of the films was “Some dude is building a human centipede. Stay the hell away from that guy.” Thing is, The Human Centipede 3 makes one of the franchise’s central themes clear as day. The film begins with the credits of the second film and the accountant showing the warden the films and claiming to have an idea. As I said, it is very clear what the idea is and where he got it. Tom Sixx is taking on a certain level of culpability or else questioning how culpable he is. Either way, he is exploring the culpability of artists for the effects on the viewer.
The first film in the franchise is about the beginning of a bad idea. A mad scientist comes up with the idea to build a human centipede, just as its creator Tom Six has. The centipede is built and the results are disastrous. A bad idea instituted causes harm to the community. But what happens when the bad idea spreads beyond the head of the sicko who has it? What could happen now that Six has released the first work on the public?
Well, the second film addresses this question. Larry, the viewer has become obsessed with the film. In the grim, abusive circumstances of his life, he has decided that building a human centipede is his only chance at power and respect. The bad idea exists and the bad idea has become virulent. He acts upon it, luring an actress from the first film into becoming a part of this centipede. The idea has become a horrible reality. The second film questions the consequences of unleashing a piece of art on the public, creating a scenario where film violence becomes real violence but only in an actually violent circumstance. This is a pretty solid statement about film violence’s effects on our lives. The movie does not suggest violence occurs in a vacuum or that it’s completely harmless to see film violence.
The third brings up what happens when the idea of instituted violence comes into contact with the public, and even further, how a bad idea gets instituted in the large scale. Forget about doing it once, The Human Centipede 3 posits that it could be done hundreds of times to hundreds of people. The third film shows an environment where people encounter the possibility of doing that thing they saw in the movie. The first film does not inherently suggest that you can build a human centipede if you’re not an insane scientist. The second film says “nope, bad ideas can effect anyone.” When we accuse the human centipede of being a bad idea, Tom Six says “no shit, a human centipede is a bad idea.” He even slyly hints at it being a bad idea through the warden and the prisoners in the prison around it.
The prisoners in the third film are disgusted by the film, just as the warden is. Six is indicating and admitting “yes, it is a perfectly valid, sane response to be disgusted by this idea. It is a bad idea.” But wait…doesn’t the willingness to explore this bad idea, to go through with it so thoroughly and to examine its potential show that maybe this piece isn’t about human centipedes at all and that maybe this lack of intelligence, this lack of reverence and this lack of vision that critics and viewers have accused Six of might be a lot less well founded than it seems?
The painting below, The Treachery of Images is by the surrealist Rene Magritte. It makes a statement that on the surface seems apocryphal. It says that this is not a pipe. Some of you look at it and think “of course this is a goddamn pipe. What are you, stupid?” But when you step away and reconsider the statement, you realize that Magritte is right. This is no pipe. Try lighting it and smoking it. What? You can’t? That’s because this is the image of a pipe. To say The Human Centipede is about Human Centipedes would be to light and smoke Magritte’s pipe. As I have reiterated, the films show the process of hermeneutic movement using a very concrete example of a virulent idea and exploring it to the terminus of it, exploring it further than it probably should be explored. Tom Six even shows up in the third film saying he wants to see the surgery performed. Why? Because this must be seen through to the bitter end, even if it makes Six puke.
When you look at the complexity of your own work, you cannot pretend to exist in a world that does not have narrative mad science like this. We cannot brag about skateboards in times of jetpacks. Tom Six made three films about the idea of creating a human centipede. Burroughs said that language was a virus from outer space and across three films, Tom Six showed us this virus incubating and spreading to the populace. While the execution may look flawed in the live action Ren and Stimpy denouement to the trilogy, the intricacy of the undertaking cannot be overlooked. Nor can the commercial viability of these explorations.
Does your book take its content and examine the themes and ideas behind it as boldly and interestingly as it can? You can tell a story that says that violence is bad or you can wave violence into your narrative and constantly reveal the problematics of violence. You can do as Burgess and Kubrick do with A Clockwork Orange and show the temptation and the decision-making process behind violence instead of simply lecturing your reader on the ugliness of this behavior. The Human Centipede ambitiously encodes its message in its walls and structure across three gory and insane films. Stories like this call out artists to be this smart and daring, regardless of consequence.
Examine how you tell your story and think about how you can weave the messages and themes into the structure and imagery instead of just into the plot and dialogue. This takes “show don’t tell” to a whole new level.
It Evokes A Response
Audacity and quality are not necessarily one and the same. Plenty of transgressive art will fall short aesthetically and intellectually. Just because music is loud doesn’t make it cool. Just because there are tits and gore doesn’t make you edgy. But when a certain level of visceral response occurs, you have to look into what pissed people off. Critics giving out a number of zero star reviews to a piece that is not clearly Dude Where’s My Car 2 or a remake of Breakin’ should be a giant semaphore flag that shit is going down that bears paying attention to. When we see zero star reviews from disgust and confusion, that’s a trail to sniff down.
When audiences first encountered Luis Bunuel’s Un Chien Andalou, things were thrown at the screen, raw outrage conquered the theaters. The outraged prisoners in The Human Centipede 3 were not unlike the crowd who encountered Bunuel and Dali’s surrealist masterpiece. The director Pasolini was killed in the street for his transgressive films and in your face homosexuality. Frankenstein, Night of the Living Dead and the Exorcist all turned stomachs. While the turned stomachs, critical revulsion and utter contempt for The Human Centipede movies does not insure their merit, they do beg a question.
Do people care this much about what you’re doing? Carlton Mellick’s book The Baby Jesus Butt Plug riled up an angry mob on The Blaze last year. It was not the first angry mob, it was not the last. Christians were calling for a boycott because it was being taught in a class, used as an example of the excesses of the left wing intellectuals. The fact that something could be grotesque and blasphemous and yet used as a teaching tool evoked a natural revulsion in these people. The grotesque is supposed to just be there for perverts to jerk off to or idiots to spit mouths full of Big Mac at as they guffaw at their computer screen. It is not supposed to be studied, dissected or understood. It is not supposed to have themes, it’s just supposed to make people feel grossed out. Right? Right?
The combination of smart and grotesque will always evoke a response. The fact the brain and the viscera can be engaged and at odds is a problem for critics and a lot of viewers and a conflict that does not resolve itself simply and cleanly. As I said, it is not a guarantee of merit but it is certainly evidence a piece shouldn’t be ignored and discarded. Something that can invoke that much hate and revulsion without being propaganda for something hateful and repulsive must be hitting some kind of nerve or must be using something repulsive to show you the inherent repulsiveness of an idea, a process or a condition of society.
So, before you stop and judge a grotesque for fulfilling the purpose of grotesquerie, you should stop and make the inquiry of your own art. Does your erotica make people cum? If the answer’s no, why the fuck not? Does your horror boil people’s blood and elevate their heart rates? If no, then why the fuck not? Does your weirdness stretch people’s perception and confuse them? If no, then why the fuck not? Carlton Mellick, Bunuel and Tom Six didn’t hold back or question the conviction behind the idea or worry that it would be too weird or too sexy or too intense. They flat out fucking did it. Before judging those who have churned stomachs or confused critics, ask “do I have this much conviction in my story?”
Sew some motherfuckers together. You’ll be glad you did.
Garrett Cook is the Wonderland Award winning author of TIME PIMP, JIMMY PLUSH: TEDDY BEAR DETECTIVE, MURDERLAND, ARCHELON RANCH, and numerous short stories and non-fiction pieces.