For the most part this has been a piss-poor year for horror movies both in quality and quantity. There was hardly a horror movie in wide release in 2011 which wasn’t either a distasteful remake (The Thing, Fright Night) the umpteenth sequel in a franchise I hadn’t bothered to keep up with (Scream 4, Final Destination 5) or just some unwatchable looking crap (Priest, The Rite, Apollo 18, Shark Night 3D). I thought about bending my definition of horror to include stuff like Take Shelter, Martha Marcy May Marlene, Contagion, and I Saw the Devil, but ultimately I decided to stick to my guns even if it meant nominating some movies that were less than great.
- Insidious: In its first half Insidious feels like an experiment to see what the Paranormal Activity movies would have been like without the “found footage” gimmick and with ghosts that are occasionally visible. Then midway through it reveals that the haunting at the film’s center is actually more interesting and original than it initially seemed and that it’s been leading to a climax that’s actually pretty cool. It’s certainly a much better movie than the trailers would have you believe.
- Paranormal Activity 3: Given that just about every horror movie gets a sequel whether it needs one or not, I give producer Oren Peli credit for handling the annualization of the Paranormal Activity series a lot better than he could have. Paranormal Activity 2 didn’t work very well as a standalone horror film, but it did set up a fairly interesting mythology to explain the events of the first film in an interesting way. The third film takes that new framework and focuses on bringing more actual horror to the table, not entirely successfully, but there are some good moments along the way.
- Red State: Red State is a hybrid of horror, comedy, and action, and it isn’t exactly “scary.” Still, given that it essentially uses the torture porn framework of “capture, torment, escape” I felt like it was still appropriate in this category. On more of a meta-level I find that the villains in this film are, in their own way, scarier than most horror villains because they aren’t too far removed from a lot of real people with hateful beliefs.
- Stakeland: I wouldn’t exactly call this movie “scary,” but it’s about vampires, so it probably belongs here. Of course the “vampires” in this are basically zombies. They’re feral creatures who come out at night and mindlessly attack people and this doesn’t diverge too much from the basic zombie-apocalypse formula. It’s also pretty derivative of the Cormac McCarthy novel “The Road.” So the movie isn’t very original, but it is executed pretty well and deserved better than what was essentially a direct to DVD release.
- The Woman: This film from Lucky McKee, director of the 2003 cult horror film May, didn’t get much of a release outside of the festival circuit until its DVD release but I think it’s at least worthy of consideration. It’s certainly a gory film and it trades in a sort of macabre that’s clearly horror in nature, but it’s not overly scary at least not until the end when things get a bit more intense. For much of its running time its more of a satire, almost an American response to last year’s Greek provocation piece Dogtooth. I didn’t love the movie or even like it all that much, but it’s certainly unique.