Now turn off the lights, pull your feet in under the covers, and keep reading for a look at our choices for the Best Horror Movies of 2013.
13. We Are What We Are
Horror remakes are a ubiquitous phenomenon, but while most end up being barely worth the time it takes to watch the opening credits there were three this year that stood above the rest in one way or another. Director Jim Mickle remade a highly acclaimed Mexican thriller from 2010, and while he changed up a couple of the details his film retains the original’s sense of dread and familial obligation. It’s easily Mickle’s best film to date too.
Some like to compare this little slice of existential indie horror with Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon’s Cabin In the Woods, but the only similarity they share really (aside from taking place in a cabin in the woods) is a smart appreciation of how/why we watch horror films. It’s a definite slowburn that builds its story clue by clue meaning inattentive viewers may be left scratching their heads, but the extra “effort” is worth it.
11. American Mary
Jen and Sylvia Soska are a pair of genre-loving, Canadian twins who not only managed a big jump in quality with their second feature film but also delivered one of the year’s oddest horror thrillers. It’s essentially a rape/revenge picture, but the world they create is a grimly stylish look inside the body modification community. The film also differs from the norm in its two strong female leads, Katharine Isabelle and Tristan Risk.
10. Evil Dead
Anyone foolish enough to remake Sam Raimi’s beloved splatter classic was destined to feel the wrath of fans, but Fede Alvarez’ redo deserved better than the hate it received. It has more than a few issues to be sure, but what it lacks in distinct or interesting characters it makes up for in incredibly brutal and gory acts of violence. The final twenty minutes are fairly fantastic and offer up an intensity missing from most horror films. Plus, you can’t help but love Lou Taylor Pucci in this.
I wouldn’t have expected this list to include a found-footage film, let alone three, but here we are. This one plays like Chronicle meets Park Chan-wook’s Thirst, and while it’s not nearly as good as that latter film it succeeds almost on energy and innovation alone. Derek Lee and Clif Prowse wrote, directed, and star, and they manage to bring a lot of personality and vitality to both the genre and the found-footage format.
8. The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh
This low-budget answer to the blockbuster haunted house film two spots below is a triumph of atmosphere and mood. It’s also the antithesis of something like Insidious in both its palette and volume, instead choosing to dole out its story and scares in a somewhat meandering pace. That’s not a dig either as writer/director Rodrigo Gudiño knows exactly what he’s doing and earns high marks for investing his tale with depth and meaning beyond strictly things that go bump in the night.
7. Willow Creek
The second found-footage film on the list is a surprise for two additional reasons. First, it’s yet another one about Bigfoot (seriously, there are at least four of these already), and second, it’s written and directed by Bobcat Goldthwait. Happily, it’s the best found-footage film to tackle Sasquatch by a wide margin. Goldthwait’s film manages this thanks to smart and funny writing that allows us time to get to know and like our lead characters before dropping them into a legitimately scary third act.
6. The Conjuring
Director James Wan delivered two horror films this year, and while one was a sequel to his highly successful and wonderfully creepy Insidious it was this old-fashioned haunted house film that terrified audiences to over $300 million worldwide. Ignore the “based on a true story” claptrap and just enjoy strong acting and steadily building terrors, both atmospheric and jump-style. The clapping game scenes alone offer up more chills than many horror films manage in their entirety.
5. Toad Road
This indie is the least traditional horror film to make the list, but it’s also stuck with me in ways most films (horror or otherwise) fail to do. It’s a doomed romance of sorts amid friends and drug addicts, and by the time the supernatural subplot appears the real horrors have already made themselves evident. Admittedly, the movie is a muddled and raw mess at times to the point that it’s probably the last film here I’d recommend you watch, but it’s haunting in ways the other, slicker films aren’t.
4. You’re Next
Home invasion movies are a small sub-genre all their own, but far too many of them are brutal and bleak affairs. Director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett stand apart from the crowd by crafting one that mixes the suspense with laughs and wonderfully choreographed action. The cast is a big part of both with “final girl” Sharni Vinson delivering smackdowns while A.J. Bowen, Joe Swanberg, and Barbara Crampton deliver the charm. It’s fun horror done right.
The third and final remake on our list is a dark look inside the mind of a very disturbed man. Elijah Wood takes on the title role and proves his creepy turn in Sin City was no fluke. Director Franck Khalfoun ratchets up the experience by shooting nearly the entire film POV-style meaning we only see Wood in reflections (one brief scene aside). It puts us in the killer’s shoes throughout and increases the film’s pathos and effectiveness. Also effective? The ridiculously bloody and realistic gore effects.
It’s rare for a sequel to address and improve upon nearly every issue its predecessor had, but this anthology film does just that. The wraparound story is still the weak spot, but the decision to feature only four shorts (instead of five) means the film has a faster pace, and even better, there isn’t a dud among them. Three of the stories are good fun and make great use of camera tech, and the third is just a marvel of pure, wall to wall madness. It’s scary, funny, gross, and alone worth the price of admission.
1. The Battery
I usually run the other direction when someone suggests I watch a super low budget zombie movie, but this micro indie from writer/director/star Jeremy Gardner is a bit of a revelation. Part road trip, part unconventional friendship, the film drops us in the middle of a zombie apocalypse but makes the two lead characters more of a focus than the flesh-munching drama happening around them. It plays like a beautifully-photographed, lazy summer day occasionally punctuated by brain-eaters, and it’s the rare horror film to find the humanity amid the bloody chaos.