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Matt’s Top 20 Horror Films of 2012

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Matt’s Top 20 Horror Films of 2012

December 30, 2012
By Matt Molgaard - Staff Writer

Grabbers Poster

When 2012 initially kicked off, I wasn’t too optimistic. Not about life in general of course (you’ve always got to hope for a good year, even though 2012 proved to be a certified financial disaster for me personally), but cinema, horror in specific. Prometheus appeared promising, and the oft-discussed The Cabin in the Woods (which sat on a shelf for far too long) looked as though it may prove to be a film worthy of a watch or two, but outside of those two productions, few other projects (plenty began to surface as the year progressed obviously) captured my attention. Fortunately for guys like me, who held a little trepidation about the year’s schedule, a heavy dose of wicked horror eventually hit the market, making this year one of the more surprising in recent memory.

I’ve written countless articles of this nature for too many publications to name, but rarely do I find myself struggling with narrowing down my selections. Typically a year ender list includes 10 movies, and I’m struggling to isolate 10 truly terrific flicks; this year I was forced to stretch that number to 20 in order to acknowledge all the movies that truly deserved acclaim. And amazingly, I even missed some of the flick’s I was truly interested in. We’re talking about pictures that may well have been fine enough films to fight their way into these ranks. The Collection, The Divide, Maniac, Father’s Day and Citadel all evaded me this year, and I’ve heard plenty of positive chatter regarding each.

In the end, I suppose very few find the time to screen every single picture to catch their eye. The list you’re about to read could be considered incomplete, knowing that I haven’t seen every film I’d like to have seen in 2012, but I’m working with what I’ve got. And what I’ve got is still a massive load of awesome flicks that I was fortunate enough to check out; films I would recommend to any fan of the genre as they stand as some of the best work I’ve seen in quite some time and clear-cut stars of 2012.  

You might also like the site official list:  Best Horror Movies of 2012, and the Biggest Disappointments

Want to see what coming in the future check out 2013 Upcoming Horror Movies.  

20 Vessel: There were a lot of high quality short horror films this year, and I really wanted to acknowledge at the least, one of those films. Having gone back and forth between quite the assortment of awesome flicks, it all came down to Vessel, The Sleepover and Dead Man’s Lake. Three productions that couldn’t possibly be any different, shot on obviously different budgets with clearly unique styles, these shorts topped all shorts this year. All three are films worthy of feature length transfer at best, tremendous recognition at worst. Ultimately, I’m going with the out-of-this-world mid-flight monster/alien tale as my number 20 pick. Some pretty solid effects and a very impressive cast as well as script earn this one the nod, although I wouldn’t be mad if anyone claimed a preference for one of the aforementioned films over Vessel. Keep an eye on Clark Baker and watch for a film titled Vessel in the future: this short has already been optioned for full length transfer. 

19 Hotel Transylvania: I only got the chance to check out a couple animated flicks this year, but I caught a couple gems, no doubt about it. Heading into Hotel Transylvania I anticipated a goofy, fun but forgettable flick. I still think about it from time to time, which means it far surpassed my expectations. In fact, I’d like to check it out again, and that’s definitely a good sign. The feature offers the voice work of one truly stellar cast (including appearances from Steve Buscemi, Andy Samberg, Fran Drescher, David Spade and Adam Sandler), and although the story itself isn’t earth shattering, there’s some pleasant animation to soak up here and a wide array of iconic monsters to keep you entertained. Goofy, good, memorable fun, Hotel Transylvania, as I noted, definitely exceeded expectations and proved a really enjoyable film fit for just about all audiences.

18 The Raven: The Raven had plenty of faults. A few plot holes, a questionable performance or two and a few legitimately silly CG shots hurt the production, a lot. The film also failed to wow upon release, and hasn’t yet yielded a massive home following at this point either. But, for what it’s worth, I actually got a big kick out of this underperformer. It’s one of about three films this year that stunk of neglect, but entertained on a respectable level. John Cusack’s performance as Edgar Allan Poe was brilliant as he brought the animation I often imagine Poe did indeed showcase (which almost personalized Cusack’s performance for me), and John works at emphasizing some of the man’s vices particularly well. The atmosphere was also quite rewarding, as a number of shots in the film feel like something that crept straight out of a Hammer film from the 1970’s. I’ll more than likely be chastised by readers, but I’ll take The Raven over The Woman in Black eight days a week.

17 Chernobyl Diaries: If The Raven was flawed, Chernobyl Diaries was a train-wreck with nothing left to salvage… well, almost nothing. Most people viewed the picture as such, too. Loads of questionable decisions are made in this film (both in front of and behind the cameras), and at the core, it’s unoriginal, it isn’t thought provoking in the least, it’s just… a tad uninspired as a whole. That noted it’s one of the few films to see release this year that I’ve watched three or more times, and that means something. Chernobyl Diaries is absolutely savage at points (that finale is cutthroat), reasonably well acted (the picture boasts a handful of young genre familiars with refined skills and bright futures), a little shocking (the bear scene threw me for a complete loop and yanked a legitimate jump from me) and, well, it boasts an appearance by one of my celebrity crushes: Ingrid Bolsø Berdal. Against the grain I go, Chernobyl Diaries, for all its screw-ups, is a winner in my book.

16 The Snowtown Murders: Justin Kurzel directs this disgustingly disturbing take on the notorious John Bunting and the gruesome Snowtown murders. Billed as Australia’s most heinous serial killer case, this is one story that stirs the bowels long after the picture’s conclusion. The Snowtown Murders doesn’t really offer a perverse amount of graphic violence or extreme bloodshed; it functions on a psychological level from the jump. However, the subtlety in a lot of Kurzel’s work behind the camera is unbelievably chilling and Daniel Henshall’s depiction of Bunting is completely mesmerizing. You get lost in the authenticity of the man’s performance, and trapped in his world of quiet, murderous fury. To know the guy’s not even 30 years old yet, with less than 15 credits on his résumé is completely boggling. I’m telling you, one man really makes this film the harrowing, psychological shocker that it is, and that’s Henshall... the way he juggles charm and malice is genuinely uncanny. If you consider The Snowtown Murders to be more of a thriller than a horror film, I couldn’t disagree. I think this is one of those pieces that fit into a number of categories, and thrives on chills, tension, sheer drama and mystery. It may not be the most frightening film to make this list, but it’s easily the most unnerving film to see release (stateside) in 2012. No competition in that regard.

15 V/H/S: I enjoyed a handful of found footage flicks this year, and in the end, I knew one (note that I don’t consider Chernobyl Diaries a found footage film because director Bradley Parker distances his effort from the typical shaky handheld cam approach significantly) absolutely had to make the list. At the end of the day, it really came down to Evidence, The Bay and V/H/S. Evidence was so left field I fell in love with it immediately, The Bay was quite an unsettling experience and V/H/S actually offered something refreshing. The stories featured in V/H/S aren’t particularly profound themselves, but they are for the most part enjoyable shorts. What really landed V/H/S on this list was Brad Miska’s killer concept of dumping found footage features in an anthology format. Brad’s always been an outspoken guy with a wild train of thought (you likely know this if you’ve ever visited his immensely popular site, so it’s not remotely near shocking that he’s perfectly capable of coming up with some wild ideas. I’m just thankful that the idea didn’t backfire. Then again, the chances of that decreased the moment guys like Ti West, Adam Wingard and David Bruckner signed on to participate.

14 Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter: ALVH fits into the same category already housing my number 17 and 18 picks, Chernobyl Diaries and The Raven. This movie has some serious problems to stomach; the worst being the CGI, which I suppose isn’t all too bad compared to plenty of other commercially released pictures. Seth Grahame-Smith crafts this screenplay, and while he does a solid job of transferring his own novel of the same name, the magic of his book doesn’t quite make the full transition to picture. That said I should note that the novel is absolutely genius and astonishingly informative at times. I’m not surprised a motion picture failed to usurp the greatness of its source material. In the end however, this is a fast-paced action/horror combo that works in a way it never should have managed. It’s engaging, it’s exciting, and it’s got some heavy replay value. The title may fool you into anticipating a hokey horror feature, but that’s not the case, at all: this is balls out straight edge work. Call it a guilty pleasure if you please, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter was one of 2012’s greatest surprises.  

13 Asylum Blackout: I checked out Asylum Blackout expecting little more than a few jolts and a bucket or two of the sticky stuff. What I actually got however, was a quick moving story that examines a nightmarish scenario that few would be lucky to survive. And that’s part of the beauty here: the concept – an asylum overrun by inmates after a weather induced blackout, in a nutshell – is something conceivable. I’m sure those in the health care industry may not be overjoyed by the way the system is often depicted in this flick, but Alexandre Courtès delivers a terrifying film that blends frantic violence with a sense of suffocating claustrophobia wonderfully. Rupert Evans, Richard Brake and Kenny Doughty bring their A-games, which only helps to elevate this picture into the echelons of unappreciated greatness.

12 The Innkeepers: Ti West’s fifth feature film lacked the suspense and powerful finale of his 2009 treasure The House of the Devil, but it was a damn fine feature all the same. There’s fantastic atmosphere at work here, as well as some subtle but stellar camera techniques put to use. Both leads (portrayed by Sara Paxton and Pat Healy) do a terrific job and share a believable onscreen chemistry that far surpasses sufficient. Paxton in particular really shines as she summons some of the most perplexing and diverse facial expressions you’ll see on film, and sells her character with the charm of a lifelong Kirby employee. The finale falls upon viewers rather quickly and while I’d have liked to see the terror drawn out a few extra minutes, it is certainly a memorable climax. Somehow still heavily slept on by many is this piece of work, and I recommend those unfamiliar with The Innkeepers change that as soon as possible.

11 Mother’s Day: Mother’s Day sat on the shelf for about two years before being released, and while that is indeed a shame, the film was unquestionably worth the wait. Rebecca  De Mornay is back to her unsettling “Hand That Rocks the Cradle” ways in this unnerving character examination, and she’s got a wealth of refined assistance on set. Jaime King, Shawn Ashmore, Frank Grillo, Warren Kole and Matt O'Leary all turn in top notch performances. The story leans on a very plausible setup (given today’s society) and that helps to separate this home invasion (basically) tale from many similarly themed features. This is one of the stronger remakes you’ll see today, hands down, and Jaime King gets an extra nod of appreciation from me personally, having now been a part of three highly entertaining remakes, the other two being My Bloody Valentine and Silent Night, of course.

10 [REC] 3: Genesis: Outside of the first 15 minutes or so, Paco Plaza ditches the found footage format for the third installment in his immensely popular [REC] franchise. Given the success of the first two films, that seems like a series death wish, but Genesis is actually a very successful film. Plaza’s injected a healthy measure of comedy into this particular installment, and between the mood shift and the technical differences, [REC] 3 emerges a refreshing piece of film. I love the gritty appeal of the first two flicks (part one in particular), but throwing fans a curveball doesn’t derail what’s already been established, it only adds another dimension to a really engaging zombie/possession story. Genesis is a film fully capable of standing on its own, so if you haven’t seen [REC] or [REC] 2, don’t worry about steering clear of this one (you know that gnarly chainsaw cover has caught your attention) in fear of spoiling the origins of the franchise. [REC] 3, by the way, is also one of the finest third installments you’ll find in any horror series on the market, and definitely one of the years’ strongest pictures.   

09 Storage 24: 2012 actually produced a couple of really stunning monster movies. I’ve come to anticipate manure from contemporary monster flicks because they typically suck, to be completely honest. But this year we were gifted some beauties and Storage 24 was one of them. A throwback to cheesy monster fare of the 1980’s, Storage 24 is elevated by some surprisingly strong script work, a very gifted cast, a director with a clear vision and some pretty awesome practical special effects. There are a few chuckles to be had here, but for the most part director Johannes Roberts delivers an edgy flick that exercises a frantic enough pace to keep tails in seats. The monster itself looks a bit like a slightly more humanoid rendition of The Thing… when The Thing isn’t imitating a human outright, of course, and the lack of nauseating CGI filled my heart with serious joy. This one came out of nowhere, but it’ll find a home in my collection the moment I see it available on the shelf.

08 The Loved Ones: Obsession can be awfully bloody. For Brent, it’s also damn painful. Believe me when I tell you avoiding a date with “Princess” could be a life-saving piece of advice. This film, which, like Mother’s Day, sat untouched by distributors for a couple years, is extremely harrowing and grossly disturbing. Kidnapping, torture, murder and even a hint of incest broods in this indie effort that excels as a rather frightening experience. Of every picture listed in this feature, this is likely one of the lesser known additions. Well, do not let that fool you: The Loved Ones manages to make a monumental teenage activity like the Prom a tangibly terrifying ordeal, and somehow paints a psychopath as… borderline innocent, believe it or not. The Loved Ones was one serious mind bender and a sure-fire highlight of 2012.

07 The Barrens: I’ve been left completely aloof at the lack of love The Barrens has garnered. This is a slick combination of psychological terror and purely animalistic shock. What we’ve got is an uber-clever slant on the age old urban legend of the Jersey Devil. Darren Lynn Bousman dumps Stephen Moyer, Mia Kirshner, Erik Knudsen and Shawn Ashmore in the New Jersey Pine Barrens where trouble brews on more than a single level. Moyer fronts the film as Richard Vineyard, a man both physically and mentally ill, and his performance flirts with hypnotic. The man really forces viewers into a chaotic world of hallucination, paranoia and aggression. Bousman’s script is impressive and the special effects work is not only practical but pretty damn cool to boot. The Barrens burns a bit slow, but the climax of the picture is damn rewarding, and as a whole, I consider it one of the more inspired films of the year. 

06 John Dies at the End: Don Coscarelli fans can officially rejoice: the living legend has returned with his first feature length in ten years. And yes, it’s every bit as amazing as the man’s finest past efforts. On a grand scale I’d say this one is a little light on exposition, but the absurdness and constantly puzzling shifts in the pic’s direction is so far beyond fetching it’s stunning…and oh… so… grand. From a distance the film looks a bit complex. The truth of it is, all that need be done to ensure you fully understand the story’s plot (if you haven’t already read the “David Wong” novel of the exact same name, which by the way is a priceless piece of work) is, apply some patience and let the movie roll. The mysteries work themselves out. Everything about this dimensional jumping death defying duo is brilliant. From Coscarelli’s screen adaptation, to his trademark just over the top campiness, to his guaranteed Angus Scrimm inclusion, to the slightly exaggerated performance from our leads to Robert Kurtzman’s kick ass special effect to… well, I’ve got to sit tight on the belief that you see where I’m going with this. Just another piece of cinematic proof, that Don Coscarelli is a certified horror boss.

05 Sinister: I actually think Sinister was severely overrated. I was inundated by praise for this one from too many sources to count. It’s been called the greatest horror film released since The Exorcist, the most frightening film of the year, and the greatest creation since Smart Phones. I don’t think Sinister is any of those things (yes, a buddy of mine actually declared it “The Greatest Creation Since the Smart Phone” by the way), but I still found it enjoyable enough to land a top five position on this list, which speaks volumes. Ethan Hawke is and has been a great thespian for years, and he brings his A-game for this creepy chiller that works a black, almost… meta-angle. Juliet Rylance proved impressive despite her lack of field work and writer/director Scott Derrickson managed to produce an intelligent film that plays as much on the personalities and complexities of character as outright savage gore or engrossing visuals. Not the masterpiece so many have declared, Sinister is still one hell of a good movie that’s well worth more than a lone look and deserves an admirable spot on this list.   

04 ParaNorman: I’ll probably receive a bit of hate mail for this, but I think ParaNorman might just be the greatest animated horror film ever produced. Yes, that means even superior to Frankenweenie. This stop motion treasure is a wonder to behold and ensnares the attention with the efficiency of a Christopher Nolan mind-warper. It’s hard to peel your eyes from the screen, and the cast who lend their voices to this tale shine. Kodi Smit-McPhee is fantastic as the socially awkward Norman, who happens to be capable of conversing with the dead, Casey Affleck is gold as the completely aloof muscle head brother, Mitch, John Goodman pops up to lend his charm as Mr. Prenderghast and Tucker Albrizzi brings comedic dynamite to the role of Neil, Norman’s lone buddy. Much darker than your typical animated effort, ParaNorman is legitimately eerie at times, but also brings a moral to the table. This one works for all audiences and commands appreciation. You can really see the hard work and countless hours invested in this masterpiece right here.   

03 Grabbers: Move aside Storage 24, you’ve got real competition for best monster movie of the year! Grabbers caught me on the chin and just about knocked me out cold. Hilarious at times, wildly engaging, very, very well-acted and loaded with top notch monster visuals, Grabbers is officially one of, if not the greatest monster movie I’ve seen since Joon-ho Bong’s, The Host. The characters in Jon Wright’s latest are the kind of characters a horror fan yearns for: likeable, memorable, compassionate personalities that no one really wants to see die... funny folks with a taste of liquor, who doesn’t like that kind of chap? Anyone who’s been fortunate enough to catch a screening of this film should have it on the tip of their tongue for some time. Grabbers took me by pleasant surprise, and reinforced my belief that Americans should just leave the monster fare to foreign filmmakers. These guys seem to get it (both Grabbers and Storage 24 are foreign pictures I’d like to add), while we’re too wrapped up in how many computers we can bring to life during post-production in order to avoid having to actually craft any tangible special effects. And, don’t get me wrong: Grabbers capitalizes on some computer generated imagery, but it isn’t gaudy, it’s well controlled and only used when completely necessary. There are plenty of amazing physical monster props used in this one, and they look rather striking. Grabbers is just a bad ass movie, plain and simple! 

02 The Cabin in the Woods: As much as I enjoyed The Cabin in the Woods (I caught this one multiple times on the big screen and have added it to my home collection since disc release), and as much I lobbied for this one to be recognized as the best horror installment of the year in the earlier segments of 2012, time has shown me the truth: The Cabin in the Woods is my official number two (not one) pick for best horror film of the year. It’s clever, self-aware, fairly gory, original and well-acted. If you paid any attention to the promotion this film received you know it was touted as something you’d never seen before, despite the cliché title and deceptive trailers. And I’d say that’s an incredibly fair statement. This one is as wild as it gets, and offers up multiple ideas, all sewn seamlessly together to create a chaotic but intelligent picture that will stun you, more than once, right up until the final seconds of the film. If you avoided The Cabin believing it be another typical slasher, you made a major, major mistake: this is anything but typical, and I’m not even comfortable labeling it a slasher, to be honest. This is a picture of a higher order with a portion of wit affixed that we just don’t see too often. Visit The Cabin in the Woods ASAP, and call me to dish out your gratitude if you make it back alive.

 01 Prometheus: Ridley Scott’s Alien prequel redefines multi-layered story telling. The level of symbolism in the film is also near unparalleled in our genre. So much so that it seems massive amounts of fans and critics alike simply didn’t get the movie. While small hiccups hinder the feature’s flow from time to time (look for little visual quirks, and of course the mystery of why Fifield returns to the Prometheus a full blown, overgrown zombie as a few of the most puzzling moments), as a whole, the story is really rather ingenious. It’s great to see a new approach to the creation of man, and the mythological and religious ties work wonders in captivating the viewer’s attention and keeping the wheels turning. The performance turned in by Noomi Rapace (as Elisabeth Shaw) is terrific, and she’s about the best bet I can imagine as a substitute for Sigourney Weaver’s iconic character, Ellen Ripley (don’t get confused, these are not the same character, they are however both heroines who stand for the same beliefs). For a film that “isn’t an Alien prequel” (according to Scott), this one certainly feels a hell of a lot like an Alien film!


You might also like the site official list:  Best Horror Movies of 2012, and the Biggest Disappointments


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January 1, 2013
2012 Horror movies
By: gesturestear
Great selections,but I think you reversed the order.Cabin thein the Woods was not scary. I get it was a parody, about the truth of horror movies being really reality. As a HP Lovecraft scholar I thought maybe they were going to include these ancient ones as the source of this story. I guess contemporary horror doesn't have to pay homage to the great horror writers of the early 20 century like HP, Machen, Clark Ashton Smith and others. Cabin deserves to be in the parody section, not Horror. Eilazabeth Olsen was great in Silent House, and the original Spanish version is not the same story and deserves to be seen. Prometheus was also the stupidiest movie of the year. The movie had a script written at the 8th grade level. A ship travels millions of light years to a planet and finds the abandoned station right around the corner between mountain ranges. The astronauts take off their breathing apparatus without checking air quality. The scientist on botany decides to make friends with a slimy intelligent life pod creature without any precautions. I could go on and on about the script I thank you for your other selections and look forward to seeing the ones I haven't but as a horror fanatic of faith try and expand your depth. Hollywoo horror is formulaic and are in a rut, they can't get out of their stale teenage horror routine so. I mostly watch foreign horror. Asian horror has got past the black haired creepy girl scene and some of the scariest horror is coming out of Thailand and Indonesia , but that would require reading. The one thing I wish is that they're are plenty of Asian American speaking people, why can' t they dub English language like the great European era of Fulci, D'amato, Argento and more.
January 1, 2013
I'm thinking
By: Matt Molgaard
Based on your Prometheus comments, I think you may have missed quite a few layers of the film. The script isn't flawless (as noted), but it's really, really far from "8th grade" level, and it's such a multi-layered film that it needs to be taken in in doses before the puzzle assembles itself properly in the mind. As for the detail you point to about removing their breathing apparatus', their technical gadgets indicate breathable air prior to. And, the scientist doesn't "make friends" with the life form, it's an extension of Weyland's grand "plan", and a form... insurance, if you will. And, for the record, Cabin isn't so much parody as snarky social commentary. I think there's a solid difference. appreciate ya checking the list out!
November 4, 2013
just stop
I dont know what you're thinking, but dont make any more lists. Horrible.

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