2017: ANDY BRESLOW’S FAVES OF FRIGHT
It’s that time of year again, and no I’m not talking about that commercialized cash grab known as Christmas, but rather that time of year to sort through the hundreds of horror films I’ve seen to try to bring you my top 5. When it comes to horror films, I live in the gutter and try to watch at least one a day. So, for those of you doing the math that’s over 300 every year. I love it, and I honestly wouldn’t have it any other way. I like to think of it as perfectly quoted by the cenobites in HELLRAISER… we’re “Explorers in the further regions of experience. Demons to some. Angels to others.” So without any further pontificating… here are my top 5 horrors of the year (in no particular order).
BLOOD DRIVE (TV Show, SYFY)
Do not adjust your screen, you read that correctly. First up on my list for the top 5 is a TV show, and one on the SYFY channel nonetheless. Last year I was absolutely blown away by CHANNEL ZERO: CANDLE COVE (which made last years top 5), and I’m thrilled to say that SYFY has stepped its game up immensely. BLOOD DRIVE takes place in a dystopian future where a game show exists pitting a ruthless cast of characters against each other on a cross country road race. Think DEATH RACE, but way more grindhouse themed if you can believe it. Oh, and did I mention that the vehicles themselves actually run on blood?? The drivers must commit murders or other heinous acts just to keep the vehicles running. In addition to that manic absurdity, each episode also has a distinct grindhouse theme complete with VHS style cover art to introduce each episode.
The nods to hardcore horror fans are too many to count, with episodes including zombies, westerns, ninjas etc. Each episode plays into the next, but also has a flare all its own. One of my favorite episodes focused on a town full of deformed bloodthirsty maniacs. What was this place called you might ask? Why, CRONENBERG of course! Sure, it’s a not so subtle nod to the king of bio-horror, but it sure made this writer smile. BLOOD DRIVE was criminally under watched and underrated, which is why it was not renewed for a second season. A crushing blow for something that had so much potential. Even so, Season 1 is totally worth the ride and stands on its own. The show was so vulgar and over the top, I still can’t believe it didn’t get more attention for that alone. The language, violence, and sexual content were at such staggering levels I’m amazed the censors allowed this to exist. The show itself actually created a hotline to laugh at those offended. The following text would scroll at the bottom of the screen during some of the fake commercial breaks “Call The Blood Drive Complaint Hotline at 325-400-DGAF (3423) and lodge a formal grievance. We promise that whatever your issue with the show, we will listen and take action. We want to ensure that the grindhouse-infected future of Blood Drive is as bright and sunny as you’ve come to expect from our programming.” In case you’re wondering DGAF stands for “Don’t Give A F***”.
Next up was probably my favorite, albeit confusing, horror film of the year. At this years Telluride Horror Show I caught an afternoon showing of Can Evrenol’s HOUSEWIFE. Can is a very strong emerging talent in horror that has come at us with both guns blazing…again!! His films are startling, violent, hyper-sexual, and well…beautiful. If you had the chance to catch his 2015 feature debut BASKIN, then you know of which I speak. If not, fix that!! BASKIN was just the tip of the iceberg, and HOUSEWIFE brings his vision to new heights. Housewife is the story of a woman who suffered some serious childhood trauma, having witnessed the murder of her sister at the hands of her mother. Years later she has all sorts of issues and seeks guidance from a charismatic and mysterious cult leader (David Sakurai). What then plays out evolves into some sort of Lovecraftian nightmare that would give Dario Argento fever dreams. That’s high praise, coming from someone who has seen nearly every giallo film under the sun. It’s a very abstract and challenging film, but a visual masterpiece chock full of gore and gasp-worthy moments.
This will probably be the most controversial entry on my end of the year list. There will undoubtedly be many people that disagree as to what kind of film this actually is. I would put it somewhere between horror and suspense. It’ll undoubtedly be the same folks that want to argue whether or not THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS is a horror film. What I can tell you, is that THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER left me speechless and thinking about it for weeks. It’s unsettling and goes places you won’t expect. The film stars Colin Farell as a surgeon who has a strange relationship with a teenage boy (Barry Keoghan). As the audience is trying to make sense of this uneasy friendship, the narrative gets really dark really fast as the boy gives Colin Farrell an impossible choice. Kill your wife (Nicole Kidman) or one of your kids (Raffey Cassidy, Sunny Suljic) to save the rest of the family. If he doesn’t, one by one each family member will loose mobility, stop eating, bleed from the eyes, and eventually die. As the boy’s cryptic prophecy begins to manifest, the film grows tenser with each passing moment leading to a shocking conclusion. This film leaves a lot for the audience to figure out and make sense of without much explanation. This will surely frustrate some viewers, but left me with a sense of mystery that I spent weeks trying to work out. The film is the brainchild of Yorgos Lanthimos, who always brings the weird. His 2009 film DOGTOOTH was also a horrific little family drama that actually earned an Oscar nod. I wouldn’t be surprised if this film does the same. Nicole Kidman turns in a chilling performance as the surgeons wife, and I also believe her name will be talked about this award season.
Another pleasant surprise from the Telluride Horror Show was Mark Duplass & Patrick Brice’s sequel CREEP 2. The film shows Mark Duplass once again in manic, psychotic, and strangely likeable form as the titular creep. If you’ve not seen CREEP, you really should as it takes the “found footage” genre to new heights and really gets under your skin. If you’ve not seen it, you probably shouldn’t read the rest of this breakdown either. You’ve been warned. I wasn’t really sure how a sequel to CREEP would actually work until the set-up was revealed. I actually whispered to myself “that’s f***ing genius” when it was revealed. Duplass hires a videographer named Sara (Desiree Akhavan), just like the first film. However, unlike the first film he admits to being a serial killer right off the bat. Sara, at first, thinks he’s full of it and quite possibly mentally ill. Sara is actually sympathetic to him until he starts to get…well, creepy! The template is slightly different from the first film, since Sara has every opportunity to get the hell out of there. Her quest for Youtube fame, and morbid curiosity keep her around the creep. The film garnered a near standing ovation and the crowd was very hyped up leaving the theater. CREEP 2 will be making its debut on Netflix toward the end of the year (December 23rd).
I debated whether or not to include this film, but it has to be discussed. GET OUT was one of the most well received movies of the year, let alone HORROR movies. It received an insane amount of critical hype, and was one of the best-reviewed films EVER on Rotten Tomatoes. I was skeptical that it could live up to the hype, and I was pleased that it did not disappoint. Jordan Peele proved that he could take horror and plunge it back into the mainstream. The term “social thriller” was coined and got people talking about racism and other cultural ignorance’s in the reflection of this film. I think that the film will likely be an Oscar contender in one or more categories this awards season. This is kind of amazing since most horror films are neglected or re-branded as “thrillers” to gain any sort of critical appreciation. We as fans know that horror tends to be a dirty word in academic and other more elitist film circles. I think that this film actually broke down some of those barriers and stigmas making it culturally significant in the horror landscape. Love it or hate it, it got people talking about horror again. It also got people to take a closer look at horror films as legitimate social commentaries and not just thoughtless bloodbaths.
The film stars Daniel Kaluuya as Chris, a young African American photographer going to meet his white girlfriends (Allison Williams) parents in the countryside. It’s not a new setup, as we’ve seen this formula time and time again. However, this one takes a much darker turn, as the white elitists seem a little too enthusiastic about Chris’s blackness. It’s actually fascinating that the less racist they attempt to be, the more they are. It’s a genuine fascination and admiration of Chris that begins to get creepy. They want to BE him…literally. The film has a lot of laughs, but as Peele mentioned in an interview on TALKING WITH CHRIS HARDWICK, black and white audiences are laughing for different reasons which makes for an interesting viewing experience. I urge you to watch the film with a group of friends and I bet you’ll be surprised what different people take away from it.
Yeah, yeah…so this one isn’t a movie at all, but I’ll be damned if it wasn’t one of the scariest things to come out all year. I mean that! It’s a videogame that’s scary to the point that I actually had to stop playing it on some nights. If you play videogames and haven’t taken the plunge into the OUTLAST series, I highly recommend you fix that. And once you do, I’ll quote Negan on the last season of THE WALKING DEAD “I hope you have your sh*ttin pants on”. OUTLAST 2 takes us out of the Colorado asylum and into the Arizona desert. This time instead of crazies locked in the asylum; deranged cult members ruthlessly hunt us down wearing all manners of creepy outfits and masks. The slightly more open landscape doesn’t provide any relief from the crippling claustrophobia and jump scares of the first. In fact, I think that the Jim Jones-esque nature of the story actually makes the second game even more frightening and more fleshed out. I can say with no shame that I jumped, screamed, broke a sweat and often all at once while playing this game. It would be a crime not to mention it.