Let's get right to the point: 2013 was not exactly a banner year for our beloved horror genre. Oh sure, you'll always find a good batch a horror flicks over any 12-month period, but if you scour the 2013 release calendar you'll notice that A) Hollywood studios released very few horror flicks this year, and B) the indie filmmaker and distributors (as usual) really stepped in to fill that void. With that in mind, here's my list of the Top 12 horror films of the year. Yes, they're ranked in order of "favorites," but I firmly recommend each one. My #12 could be your #2. That's why we like art; we all see different things.
#1. Stoker (Fox Searchlight) -- In the hands of more pedestrian filmmakers, Stoker would probably hit the screen feeling like a sexy and slightly audacious thriller that doesn't stick in your memory bank very long. Fortunately it seems that the producers allowed Chan-wook Park the freedom to turn a creepy but simple story into an unexpectedly special piece of horror cinema. It's easily one of the most accomplished chillers of the year.
#2. Dark Touch (IFC Midnight) -- Despite a handful of familiar components and a whole lot of telekinetic mayhem, Dark Touch is not so much a Carrie acolyte as it is one seriously frank and powerful horror film about the disastrous and irrevocable effects of child abuse.
#3. We Are What We Are (Entertainment One) -- Those who don't even realize this is a remake will enjoy a dark, intelligent, challenging, and consistently unpredictable piece of genre filmmaking. It's a rare beast indeed: an indie remake of an imported horror movie that works as not only a compliment to the original, but also as an impressive complement.
#4. V/H/S/2 (Magnet Releasing) -- "Clinical Trials" begins simple and gets weird; "A Ride in the Park" is wonderfully clever and even subtle; "Safe Haven" is a multi-faceted diamond of a horror story; "Alien Abduction Slumber Party" is a short shot of unique fun; and the wrap-around stuff is enjoyably creepy while also staying out of the way. As a whole, V/H/S/2 has a very satisfying flow, and those who thought Part 1 was a bit too lengthy for its own good will be pleased to notice the sequel's more expeditious nature.
#5. Maniac (IFC Midnight) -- Packed with sly little in-jokes for the horror fans and powered by a simply fantastic musical score by "Rob," the new version of Maniac is a hard-ass horror film that also has some disconcertingly beautiful components. It's a grimly in-depth character study of a man who nobody should get to know, and (if looked at from a certain angle) it sort of plays like a sly but insightful satire on romantic comedies.
#6. Contracted (IFC Midnight) -- Frankly, Contracted is the sort of low-budget indie that low-budget filmmakers should watch while taking notes. Score, cinematography, make-up effects, editing, production design, and various important intangibles. It's just an impressive little horror movie on the whole.
#7. Jug Face (Gravitas) -- With a title like Jug Face, you could get just about anything. Is it a satire? A basic slasher retread? A tale of haunted dishware? The good thing about an offbeat title is that it compels you to approach the film with a touch of caution and a dash of attentiveness. Fortunately Jug Face is none of the options mentioned above. It is, in point of opinion, a bizarre but confident and odd yet grimly accessible tale of bad religion, bad spirits, and very bad behavior.
#8. Resolution (Tribeca) -- Resolution is a strange one indeed. More of a quietly brainy disassembling of horror movies than an actual horror movie -- although it does contain a handful of cleverly creepy moments -- this indie flick clearly comes from some folks who know the genre --and assume that their audience does too. That earns some solid extra credit right there.
#9. The Battery (FilmBuff) -- Suffice to say that The Battery is not a zombie flick for all tastes, but taken as a two-person character study / reluctant buddy movie / legitimately novel slant on a very oft-told tale, there's certainly a lot to like here.
#10. You're Next (Lionsgate) -- What You're Next lacks in basic originality (it's a smart-ass Agatha Christie story with gore), it more than makes up for in wit, intelligence, enthusiasm, and a firm willingness to give horror fans what they want without alienating everybody else.
#11. American Mary (Xlrator) -- American Mary turns from a darkly compelling story of a strong woman dealing with very angry men and very strange women into a horror / revenge story that's a lot more challenging and insightful than one might logically expect from a pair of first-time filmmakers.
#12. Berberian Sound Studio (IFC Midnight) -- Things get truly bizarre by the middle of Act III, and those who've made the most effort are the ones who'll most appreciate the oddly creepy and darkly poetic finale.
Honorable mention to studio horror films The Conjuring (Warner Bros.) & Evil Dead (Sony) for proving that quality horror cinema is not owned by indie filmmakers. Just 90% of it.
Bonus award to All the Boys Love Mandy Lane for finally making it to (region 1) home video. Why it took so long is a seriously boring story, but the film is definitely worth checking out.