Five Up/Five Down: The Best And Worst Of 2013 Horror So Far

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Here we are, about halfway through another year of horror movies, and I’m happy to report things are going rather swimmingly. 2012 was a bit of a let down honestly, as I found more movies to hate than love. Looking back on the crop of films I’ve already sat through in 2013 though, I can honestly admit the quality is better than expected (so far). Much, much better actually, considering how many remakes have been pushed out (so far). This year could have easily spiraled into a dark, depressing slump of continually bad Hollywood remakes, but a few directors have redefined the way we look at these inevitable remakes and reboots. Mix that with some gutsy, inventive films that dare to push boundaries, and the 2013 horror game is shaping up pretty damn well.

That’s not to say 2013 hasn’t been all guts and all glory, because there are still plenty of films not worth a minute of your time. Sequels, sequels, and more sequels have been a scourge on the horror genre this year, failing to cash in on the iconic franchises they are continuing or the new franchises they’ve promptly brought to a screeching halt. Luckily though, 2013′s gems outweigh its shit, so these tasteless chunks of waste have been much easier to swallow.

With films like The Conjuring, You’re Next, and Insidious Chapter 2 still yet to be released, I’m really intrigued to see how my end of the year “Top/Bottom Horror Movies” articles pan out, but for now, let’s take a look at the best and worst that my favorite genre has had to offer this year! Missed any of the big horror movies so far? I’m here to reveal which you should absolutely catch up on, and which you can let slip until their inevitable cable TV premiere.

DISCLAIMER: I consider films like This Is The End and Scary Movie 5 to be predominantly comedy, otherwise this list would be a lot different…

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The Best So Far!

5) V/H/S/2

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V/H/S made my Top Ten for the entire year of 2012, but for everything our first installment established, V/H/S/2 absolutely went bigger and better. More risks, badder kills, larger ideas, better production, and a more focused delivery that gave our writers/directors a longer time-frame to flesh out their ideas – and then properly de-flesh them for all to see. While I’ll admit not every segment was equal parts fantastic, Gareth Evans and Timo Tjahjanto have created an insta-classic with their segment “Safe Haven.”

The other segments (a first hand account of the zombie apocalypse, a man who starts seeing dead people with his bionic eye, and an alien abduction at a slumber party) all have their shining moments, but “Safe Haven” absolutely embodied everything that these filmmakers are challenged to do. It had everything – over-the-top effects, proper use of the found-footage method, an absolutely dynamite performance by Epy Kusnadar as Father, and an ending that brings everything home with one simple word. Seriously, if you need any reason to see V/H/S/2, it’s “Safe Haven.”

4) Stitches

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Continuing on a sadistically funny note, writer/director Conor McMahon’s killer clown horror comedy Stitches weighs in at my number four spot, blending brutally inventive kills with the comedic stylings of stand-up veteran Ross Noble as our titular slasher villain. An unknown talent to this point, Conor McMahon absolutely broke onto the horror scene in a huge way with a slew of lovably cheesy one liners from Noble and a display of brilliantly cartoonish kills that consistently one-up the last.

Telling the story of an undead children’s party clown resurrected to seek vengeance on the bratty kids who got him killed in the first place, Stitches crashes the then birthday boy’s party as he celebrates his birthday once again with an open house years later. The party antics are jovial, Stitches’ chaos is the perfect mix of horror hilarity and gory awesomeness, the kills spare no gross detail, and we’re given a slasher film that absolutely understands how much fun this genre holds. Trust me, this clown has a few tricks up his sleeve, enough to the point where Noble’s performance makes our red-nosed bastard one of my favorite slasher villains in years.

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3) John Dies At The End

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Adapting David Wong’s (pseudonym for Cracked.com Senior Editor Jason Pargin) novel was never going to be easy, but writer/director Don Coscarelli pulled it off with ease. Well, OK, I won’t say with ease, because production was no cakewalk, but the blend of meat monsters, soy sauce, and independent creativity made John Dies At The End a must-see for fans of the book or horror fans looking for something wildly different.

Take that creativity and then add in brilliant performances from Chase Williamson, Rob Mayes, and Paul Giamatti (surprise, surprise), and you’ve got some time altering craziness that can’t really be compared to any film. Ever wanted to know if there are different realities going on around you? Well, our characters take a hit of a brand new drug called Soy Sauce, and their minds are opened to a new, terrifying world that we get to experience first hand. Coscarelli’s film is a mindf#cking in the best of ways, with insanely gory twists one might not be ready for.

2) Evil Dead

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I’m not sure how I haven’t gotten sick of talking about Fede Alvarez’s Evil Dead yet, but I haven’t. Every time this title is brought up, a rush of adrenaline comes over me and I enter the conversation like I’m kicking a door down while shredding an epic guitar solo. Entrance made, Evil Dead is f#cking awesome, your argument is invalid, and just like that I’m gone, running into the night like some horror obsessed maniac. Probably not the best approach, but I can’t contain myself. Something about this year’s Evil Dead just possesses me, making me not ashamed in the least to boast my Deadite status.

Alvarez nailed this “remake” in so many ways, I don’t think it’s possible to really condense them all for this article – but I’ll give it the old college try!

Fede Alvarez was smart enough to invent content that makes Evil Dead a completely stand-alone film, the script doesn’t cash in on Raimi’s original for a cheap shot for shot revamp, Alvarez pushed so hard he originally got a NC-17 rating, he gets back to the terrifying tone Raimi intended his original Evil Dead to have, Jane Levy gives a monstrous performance as main character Mia, Fede still shows nostalgic respect to Raimi’s original, and overall, Fede Alvarez made recent mainstream horror films look like little bitches. Oh, and the grotesque practical effects! And the killer Deadite make-up! Ugh, going away now, otherwise I won’t shut up. JUST GO SEE EVIL DEAD.

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1) Maniac

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But for as much as I loved Evil Dead, I couldn’t justify putting it ahead of Franck Khalfoun’s Maniac remake. Not only does it outshine the original in every sense, but Khalfoun turned the horror world upside down with this one. Striking upon a lot of the same points as Evil Dead, especially how Alexandre Aja and Grégory Levasseur’s script approaches the material in a completely unique manner, this year’s Maniac sent chills up my spine which still haven’t gone away.

Setting aside the brutally realistic kills and blood-soaked scenes, there are two huge reasons why this remake works so well – the choice to film in a first-person point-of-view format and the casting of Elijah Wood as main character Frank. The POV camera shooting brought you up close and personal to Frank’s sick addictions, forcing you to literally be an accomplice, and Wood’s performance should win him some kind of award. Seriously. Such a gut-churning performance of horror brilliance needs to be acknowledged by some higher authority, as Frank was one of the scariest monsters I’ve witnessed in years. His circumstance is not fully his choice, as his unstable mind is partly to blame, but that unpredictability makes him all the more terrifying.

There are a lot of horror films still to come, but damn, it’s going to take a real blockbuster to knock Maniac down a peg come my end of the year recap.

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The Worst So Far!

5) Nobody Gets Out Alive

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Starting off my worst of the worst is a slasher film that just wasn’t up to snuff, coming from first time feature writer/director Jason Christopher. Undeniably rough around the edges, Nobody Gets Out Alive is a mess of cliches and stereotypes that basically borrows from every generic genre film, simultaneously showing signs of filmmaking immaturity that fails to create a distinctive voice from Christopher. There’s a local legend, some vacationing kids ignore it, they start disappearing one by one, and boom – you’ve got a horror movie.

There is positivity to this scenario though, because Christopher is still very young. His Hollywood journey is just starting, and while this script and its delivery may have been an absolute mess, some pretty brutal kills hint that some much needed tightening up could hone Christopher’s passion into a much more memorable project. While not a particularly good one, Nobody Get Out Alive is a first step for the young Jason Christopher, a name I’ll still be looking out for in the future.

4) American Mary

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The Soska sisters are getting a lot of hype after their two features Dead Hooker In A Trunk and American Mary, with many having the duo on their “Rising Stars Of Horror” list, but maybe I’m missing something. Admittedly, I haven’t seen their grindhouse inspired story about a dead hooker, but American Mary just didn’t do it for me. While the whole body modification angle was certainly interesting, enveloping me in a world I knew little about, the story didn’t have that female hero angle so many are praising the film for.

While Katharine Isabelle does what I believe to be the best she can with the character Mary, her actions seemed to lack emotion, depth, and real motivation. This traumatic event forever changes her life, but after a while you forget why Mary even started getting into the body modification game in the first place. Sure, some pretty neat effects can be found as Mary slices and dices her way to fame, but the allure of people with horns and piercings in weird places grows tiresome after a while.

The Soska’s definitely don’t lack style, but for me, American Mary failed to establish the themes that would turn Mary into a modern day superhero.

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3) Texas Chainsaw 3D

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While Evil Dead and Maniac showed us how remakes and reboots could be done right, Texas Chainsaw 3D showed us everything we’d come to expect from current horror reboots. Not only was this heaping steamer a waste of time, but it had the audacity to write itself as a direct follow-up to Tobe Hooper’s original film, basically saying “This is the only Texas Chainsaw sequel you need to care about. Forget the rest, we’re starting over!” No, it’s not worth the effort to care about. It’s not even a horror film you should care about.

Sure, Alexandra Daddario is a total babe, but this midriff-sporting scream queen couldn’t even make time pass quick enough, as Leatherface fans had to watch him be broken down and stripped of all terror. John Luessenhop’s swing at the genre has almost destroyed the character of Leatherface, driving the family aspect into the ground, but he also missed out on so many amazing opportunities to save his film. Case and point: the scene where Leatherface stumbles upon a carnival of innocent people. You’re really going to deprive us of a single noteworthy kill? Jeez, set him loose in a fun house or something at least, don’t just make him swing around the chainsaw like a spastic Fright Fest worker.

Texas Chainsaw 3D was lame, disappointing, and a waste of Leatherface’s time. Not every reboot can be an Evil Dead, I guess.

2) The Haunting In Connecticut 2: Ghosts Of Georgia

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The Haunting In Connecticut 2: Ghosts Of Georgia. Yes, let that title sink in. Not really sure why they had to keep Connecticut in the title, because you know, it takes place in Georgia, but if you saw the original, you’ve essentially seen its “sequel.” Aside from a creepy apparition thingy that likes sewing, Haunting 2 is like so many ghost stories involving imaginative children and the dumbfounded parents who won’t believe their gifted kin. I swear, if my kid ever claims to see an apparition, I’m throwing a shit-fit.

Aside from the one pretty baller scene above where a main character gets tied up in a pretty dusty scenario, there’s nothing to separate Haunting 2 from the most generic paranormal stories available. I take that back, all the ghosts are from the era of slavery, so some history is thrown into the mix, but even with the unique time-frame utilized, this run-of-the-mill sleeper won’t be keeping you up at night. Or even during the film.

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1) The Last Exorcism Part II

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Alright, let’s do this. *Cracks Knuckles*

I absolutely hated The Last Exorcism Part II. I didn’t dislike it, I didn’t think it was awful, I absolutely, positively, 100% hated it. Honestly, aside from Ashley Bell’s performance, I didn’t think the original film was anything super special, and I certainly wasn’t wishing for a sequel, but what Ed Gass-Donnelly’s follow-up ended up being was absolutely insulting.

Everything that made Ashley Bell’s performance scream-worthy in the original, her body contorting and possessed nature, were completely removed this time around. Instead, the demon starts some kind of kinky romance with Bell’s character Nell, possessing her only to make us watch Bell stroke her own face or touch herself longingly, which actually is the demon doing so.

Hmm, sounds like a great idea, right? Let’s take away everything scary, and replace it with a demonic love story. Oh, and while were at it, why don’t we make everything terrifying happen off screen, let’s never really show the demon, and let’s just load the film with characters that will never matter! Yeah, that sounds perfect!

The Last Exorcism Part II is the quintessential despicable horror sequel, watering down original content in an attempt to win viewers over on name alone. For those of you smart enough to miss this one in theaters, I beg of you, avoid this trash at all costs. Don’t even bother with a free TV viewing – you’ll thank me later.

So, do you agree? Disagree? Did I miss your favorite 2013 horror film (so far)?

With so much horror left in 2013, I’m really excited to see how this list changes by the end of the year. Reviews are praising The Conjuring already, so maybe James Wan will make an appearance in my year-end wrap up? Hell, maybe he’ll even be there twice if Insidious Chapter 2 can be just as good as his original? Only time will tell, but until then, catch up on all the glorious horror you might have missed!

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  • Tanzim W. Rahman

    Maniac was indeed a great, refreshing take on the Serial Killer sub-genre, and the horror genre in general. Beautiful cinematography and a great score are often missing from horror movies these days, so Maniac was a welcome change.

    • Matt Donato

      Agreed. To put it simply, Maniac kicked my ass

  • AD Vee

    Glad to see the inclusion of Stitches and John Dies At the End which are my two favorite movies of the year so far.
    As to VHS 2 I had no intention of watching it because I thought the first was just garbage but your glowing review has made me change my mind.

    • Matt Donato

      Glad I could help! Let me know what you think of VHS 2!

    • Tanzim W. Rahman

      I thought the first one was uneven, but not terrible. The short that remixed Friday the 13th was my personal favorite. I also enjoyed the one with the video chats. The others were meh. Most were boring, but none were terribly offensive.

      • lostboy408

        personally the one with the video chats was the best one of the whole film

  • BionicDee

    I definitely have to agree with Last Exorcism 2 being absolutely horrible. There was nothing redeemable about that movie at all. You don’t need a ton of gore to scare viewers senseless. But when you don’t even bother to show anything remotely scary it’s a complete waste of film. Glad I only spent $1 renting it from Redbox!

  • http://www.drbloodsvideovault.com/ Dr Blood

    I don’t think you’ve watched enough horror movies this year. “The ABCs of Death” is easily the worst of 2013 (although it could share that place with “The Lords of Salem”) while “Hatchet III” is the best so far. Everything else has just been “meh”.

    • Matt Donato

      Oh no, I’ve seen all those films lol I actually think I’ve seen too much horror this year so far, making those movies you listed look better than they should be haha I thought Hatchet III was the worst of the series honestly (and pretty middle of the road all around), while I thought ABCs had some creativity. Totally agree with Lords of Salem though, not a good movie by any means, but the five I listed were still absolutely worse (in my opinion). All my reviews are on the site, feel free to search for them and you’ll see!

      • http://www.drbloodsvideovault.com/ Dr Blood

        I’ll check through them later. It’s been a horrible year for horror though. Really very disappointing right across the board for all the other genre movies too, but such is life.

    • Remy Carreiro

      Hatchet 3 is BEST? Sorry, but that is insane babble. That movie lacked all the originality, scares, and humor of the first two. That movie was abysmal. I can name atleast ten segments in ABCs that were better.

      • http://www.drbloodsvideovault.com/ Dr Blood

        Listen here, mosschops, you know where you can shove your lack of poor taste and fantard asslicking appreciation for “The ABCs of (glorified YouTube video) Death”, dontcha? That abomination is shit dipped in shit, rolled in another layer of shit, and sprinkled with shit croutons. One day when you watch… hmmm, I don’t know, what are they called again… oh yes, some REAL MOVIES, you’ll realise what a fucking idiot you just made yourself look.

        But as “Frankenstein’s Army” has now beaten “Hatchet III” as the best thing so far this year, it’s not worth arguing about anyway.

        • Remy Carreiro

          I see what you did there. Touche.

  • Levi Everaerts

    I personally disagree with your American Mary bit, but I can still kinda see where you’re coming from. I’m biased towards American Mary though, so just don’t mind me, haha.