Sam’s Best Horror Films of 2011

It’s been, to put it mildly, an unimpressive year. For me, the genre has been completely in the doldrums with an endless cycle of identikit noises off movies, remakes, and – generally unconvincing – found footage films. Of all the horror I saw this year which was released in the UK over the past 12 months I can think of only a tiny handful of movies that were consistently above average. One of these films was actually made in 2008, but only got a UK release this year (and then direct to to DVD).  All that said, this is a clutch of strong work which demonstrates that even in a weak year this genre we love can still knock us for a loop every now and then.

So, with that in mind, I’ve only managed to get a Top 5 (and an honourable mention yet to open in the UK, but screened at the London Film Festival, but which is only tenuously a genre film) together for this article.  I’ll also have a list of ten great horror movies that have come to UK DVD/Blu Ray for the first time this year ready to post soon.

Enjoy the article, Happy Holidays, and let’s all hope that horror directors resolve to have a better year in 2012.


Honourable Mention: SILVER BULLETS (Joe Swanberg) : Mumblecore auteur Swanberg’s latest (well, one of them, he released four features in 2011) is a bit different to the movement’s usual form, combining an intensely intimate relationship movie with a film about Swanberg’s own relationship to his work and a few horror movie tropes. Swanberg plays a director fighting with his girlfriend (the excellent Kate Lyn Shiel) who casts her best friend in his explicit new relationship drama. She goes off to work with another director (House of the Devil director Ti West) on his Werewolf film. While Silver Bullets isn’t truly a horror film it’s an interesting examination of them at times, and Swanberg uses motifs to interesting effect (a lovely scene where a wolf masked Shiel flirts with West). It’s beautifully acted and quite enthralling, and probably more interesting if you’re a big horror fan.


5: MOTHER’S DAY (Darren Lynn Bousman) A solid little home invasion horror, which becomes a bit more than that thanks to good, Carpenter-esque (especially in the prologue) direction from Bousman, whose outings outside the Saw franchise suggest that he’s got interesting things to say in the genre and to a clutch of fine performances. The whole cadre of villains do solid work, but the standouts are Deborah Ann Woll and Rebecca DeMornay, who completely dominates the film with a charismatic and reasonably scary performance. Yes, it surrenders to cliché in the end, but there are some great scenes here (“stab your friend”) and overall this is a film that should give remakes a good name.

4: LAKE MUNGO (Joel Anderson) Joel Anderson’s film has been lumped in with the found footage genre, but actually it’s structured as a TV documentary about a how the family of a young girl who drowned during a late night swim may be haunted by her ghost. The film maintains its structural conceit well, with naturalistic performances, and its scare sequences are considerably more effective than those of Paranormal Activity, which it has been frequently compared to. The story unfolds cleverly, twisting in on itself in interesting ways, and closing out with the most haunting end credits I can recall.


3: KILL LIST (Ben Wheatley) British director Ben Wheatley’s second film is a real shapeshifter. It begins almost as kitchen sink drama, with a suburban family – Dad, Mum, young son – having friends of the parents over for what becomes a rather awkward dinner. Then it morphs and becomes a darkly comic hitman film, before embracing the horror genre in the last twenty minutes. The reason it works so well, and is so chilling, is that Wheatley pulls off the early, character driven, scenes with aplomb. The tensions are there under the surface in both the central marriage and the central friendship, but both feel very real thanks to strong and natural acting from Neil Maskell, Michael Smiley and The Descent‘s Myanna Buring. The gear shifts can clunk a little on a first viewing, but subsequent watches smooth out the changes as you adjust to the film’s style, and see the whole picture. A striking and rewarding work which promises much of Wheatley.


2: MELANCHOLIA (Lars Von Trier) Lars Von Trier’s ravishingly beautiful apocalypse is the fatalist’s flipside to Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life. While Malick’s film is a eulogy, Von Trier’s damns the world and dismisses the notion of anything else (“Life is only on Earth, and not for long.”) As a companion piece to Antichrist this shares the subject matter of depression, but changes the approach from one of screaming pain to one of acceptance. Melancholia is a film that will reward repeat viewings, as Von Trier’s characters draw you in to the approaching doom, thanks to outstanding performances by Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg, and make you feel a genuine sense of loss, despite the director’s misanthropic outlook. This is cosmic horror, and it resonates long and loud.


1: COLD FISH (Sion Sono) Since I saw his mental, 4 hour long, Love Exposure, I’ve discovered that Sion Sono is one of the most blazingly original and most downright entertaining filmmakers currently working. Cold Fish is, by his standards, almost sedate. That is to say it’s nothing more insane than an overblown two and a half hour movie about a fish shop owner who accidentally finds himself working for another fish shop owner who happens to be a gangster and serial killer on the side. So… yeah. It’s also based on a true story, apparently more closely than you’d think.

Sono’s typically bravura style is given free rein. The film looks amazing, and Sono pushes the colours in strange ways, sometimes accentuating them and sometimes desaturating the picture (the further into the criminal organisation the naive Sayamoto finds himself the more washed out the film seems to become). The performances are heightened, but brilliant. Denden and Asuka Kurosawa are fantastic as a killer couple, and Mitsuru Fukishoki is compelling as Sayamoto is pushed ever closer to the edge of sanity. Sono is unflinching in his depiction of sex and violence too, really putting you in Sayamoto’s shoes in a compelling way. Cold Fish is a crazy film, but it never feels unfocused, and is riveting from first frame to last.

Top 10 Horror Series ( 47 Articles ) : Top 10 Horror is our ongoing series where we look at the Top films within the genre. For example, 10 Best Horror Films of 2011, 10 Best Movies Featuring Zombies, 10 Greatest Kills, etc. This on going series is written by the entire writing team at

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