The films listed below could all be considered "horror," the great bulk in the genre sense, with a significant few in the true-to-life, human-drama sense. Entries are by no means intended to be up-to-date or contemporary, though many are. A dozen-plus gems near-guaranteed to rock any cinéaste's watch list and/or Netflix queue.
Attenberg - A Greek drama, with a minimum of quirk and a lot of (tortured) soul; an alternately heartbreaking and humorous drama about two female friends, one who's deeply socially and sexually repressed (her closest connection being with her dying Father), while her girlfriend is basically the town tramp, continuously attempting to school her in the ways of love and men. Their stories arc, collide and intertwine, to a thoughtfully employed, rousing score of classic Suicide songs. Great, inspiring, slice-of-life stuff.
V / H / S - My favorite horror film of the year, with Kill List coming in at a very close second. V / H / S churns the handheld-shaky-cam technique to its most clever heights, with what's barely seen, or seen in a peripheral blur, to be the scariest material therein. The premise is also terrific, such that this collection of shorts are all presumed to be on unlabeled VHS tapes, found by some thieves in the house of a man who has either expired, or been rendered unconscious, in an easy chair, faced by a stack of snowy televisions. I love ideas; that's what keeps me coming back again and again to horror films, and V / H / S is simply overflowing. The film was a collaboration, a mash-up of sorts by some upper-echelon undergorund-horror writing and directing talent, people like Oren Peli, Ti West and Joe Swanberg. A tense and harrowing ride throughout. Don't try too hard to figure it out, or apply conventional narrative sense to the proceedings; just let it wash over, and prepare to be genuinely scared.
Phase 7 - From Argentina. A horror-comedy, not in the Evil Dead II sense of raucous splatter, but under the premise that human behavior, when faced with state control in the wake of an unexplained contagion / plague, has got to be sort of laughable, and is. A young couple align themselves with a well-supplied neighbor, with spurious motives, but guns and gas masks aplenty. Think of it as a colorful, humorous take on the classic Twilight Zone bomb-shelter episode.
The Shrine - A trio of journalists are tricked by their friend into a bogus assignment—to search for a fourth colleague and friend, lost in a Polish country village where a mysterious fog cloud hangs perpetually over one section of the forest, where dark mysteries lie, and the locals are radically unfriendly. What at first seems like a cookie-cutter horror feature, with pretty-girl victims and a tight-lipped band of ominously motivated villagers, winds up being a genuinely disturbing and quite horrific ride indeed.
The Woman - Ever since the charming quirks of May, I've kept trying to like Lucky McKee's films, and he's finally delivered again, with the full force of a harrowing tale of kidnapping, torture, and rape, with a very twisted family at its center. This story of an uncivilized adult woman, raised in the wild, and captured by a sadistic, sociopathic father, hits most of the right notes (if not all), and is wild with gore, and more than a few surprises. As with 70s "downer" horror, not all the good are spared, any moral message is left to the viewer, and the end result may be hard to like exactly, though one is nonetheless left drained and feeling dirty, intrigued and perhaps inspired to a second viewing.
Sick Nurses - A fantastical, otherworldly Thai film, where a group of competitive, narcissistic, sexy nurses are picked off one by one, by a malevolent spirit they've wronged (a theme albeit over-prevalent in Asian horror, though it pretty much opens the door to any kind of fantasy murder / disfigurement / torture you can imagine, as spirits can do anything, right? - here it's a playful excuse for lurid and colorful visuals galore.) Imagine Argento's unblinkingly wild style- and color-palette, here applied in the most Asian and postmodern of terms. More than simply cheap and cheerful—as some will undoubtedly say—Sick Nurses is rich with candy-store optics, (hell-)bent romance, and more than a few buckets of blood.
Silver Tongues - An absolutely flooring adult drama, whose brilliant, myriad twists and turns are impossible to predict, and why bother? Better to sit back and let this film take you where it goes. A scheming, sadistic couple roam the American highway (with Lee Tergesen of Oz fame), and through deception, cleverly chosen words and subtle intimidation, rally unsuspecting locals into acts most people would not even consider under everyday circumstances. Even when you think you know where Silver Tongues is headed, another sick, sucker punch is waiting just around the corner. Highly recommended.
Penumbra - Another surprising, unpredictable drama, our second on this list from Argentina, seeming at first like a tense and mildly annoying lens into the life of a tightly wound, upwardly mobile female real-estate agent. As the story evolves, it becomes more and more apparent that something is really amiss, and her clients are up to a "no good" of epic proportions. The last half-hour of Penumbra is the shocking and bloody payoff to this ever-tightening tale.
Entrance - A low-budget American drama, about a Southern-California barista who's contemplating a life-changing move, and seems like she may be the target of a stalker. Our heroine is not particularly likable, nor are her roommate or her friends—an interesting narrative device—though by this film's jarring and disturbing conclusion, they will ultimately have your sympathies. Subtle, unpredictable and clever.
Beyond the Black Rainbow - With heavy, colorful nods to the golden era of 70s-80s American science-fiction film, Beyond the Black Rainbow moves patiently, with a story centered around a young woman who's lived all her life in captivity, and is yet possessed of some striking and mysterious powers, which she ultimately must engage to escape her sadistic captors. Including nods to everything from classics like 2001 and The Terminal Man, to schlocky-but-lovable fare like Clonus, Beyond the Black Rainbow plays out in a buzzing, meditative state, entwined by a masterfully appropriate and memorable electronic score. A sedate, eerie film, with minimal dialogue, not overwrought with explanations and exposition, Beyond the Black Rainbow takes a more "classic" but ultimately vivid approach to American sci-fi.
Baby Shower - No better description exists for this Chilean film than "Almodovar meets horror." A gaggle of cloying, sexed-up, drugged-up women meet at a friend's country estate, under the premise of celebrating the heroine's imminent motherhood, though the child's father is mysteriously absent. The expectant Mom has, in the interim, also come under the care (nay, spell) of some New-Age hippie types who live right nearby, and who ultimately have the bloodiest of intentions for all involved. Funny, sexy, outrageously gory and raucously bizarre.
Jess + Moss - An independent, 2011 American feature, and definitely the "odd man out" on this list, though so moving to me personally, it quite simply demanded inclusion. A coming-of-age tale about two first cousins, that's light on dialogue, and heavy on images, thought-provoking scenes and tender exchanges. A genuine heart-grinder, but only in the most hovering and un-forced set of ways, and some are bound to critique that there's not enough "film" in this film. Jess + Moss is about those timeless memories; conversations in a wrecked, abandoned truck, journals and diaries, innocent first kisses—the true "stuff" of formative youth. Moving on, growing up, and getting out of one's hometown all figure prominently in this drama, reminiscent of early Herzog and Harmony Korine circa Julien Donkey-Boy. Jess + Moss is about as "sweet" as I get, but love is radical, so they say. Thanks for reading, and forgive my name-dropping, but when you're in the mood, Jess + Moss will most surely be the right film at that right time.
What follows is my not-necessarily contemporary 2012 music list, ever-growing (couldn't even imagine reducing it to a line-item "top ten"), and also bound to have some glaring omissions. Still, I tried; took notes all year, and at the very least, attempted to summarize twelve months wherein the great sounds just kept on coming at me, faster than I could possibly annotate them. There's much I don't know, I'm the first to admit, though I know what I like when play is pressed, and/or the needle hits track one, side one. ...
Sewer Election - VIttra Sönder | Axnaar - Anart | Grand Mood - Final Urge to March | Smoke - assorted releases, 2007-2012 | Rife - s/t | Grafvolluth - Long Live Death! | N.i.l. - Neglect.Forget.Remember | Pestis - Yersinia Pestis | Nihilobstat - s/t | Vordr - Untitled 7" | Will Over Matter / Bizarre Uproar split | Terry Riley - Aleph | Lego Feet - s/t reissue | Muknal - s/t | Dargar - s/t | Absum - assorted releases | Styggmyr - Gloria Sathanas | Volkl - s/t | Death Factory - Machinen Unter Kontrolle | Ashdautas / Bone Awl split | Long Distance Poison - assorted releases | Alkerdeel - :Morinde: | Pine Smoke Lodge - assorted releases | NRIII - Paint Your Teeth; Spat Upon. | Satanhartalt - Déaþscufærgewinn | Arch Toll - Poisener | Oldest - s/t | Vile Gash - Deluded | Hoax - 2nd EP | Bludded Head - The Bludded Head | Decimus / Pat Murano - assorted releases and collaborations | Pregnant Spore / Justin Marc Lloyd - assorted releases and collaborations | Kavra - Extraños Días de Pandra | Moonknight - Ligeia | Harassor - Night on My Side The Bruno Sessions | Sargeist - Lair of Necromancy | Diamatregon - ...of death | Mirrored Hall - CS | Telecult Powers - Zion Traveler | Rust Worship - assorted releases | Grasshopper - The Day America Forgot; Goodnight Sweet Prince | Yellow Eyes - Silence Threads The Evening's Cloth | Cotton Museum - Hatching Extraction | Havohej - Purple Cloak | Sentenced For Life - Cold On The Blue | Fuil Na Seanchoille - Hunger | Aluk Todolo - Occult Rock | Cannibal Movie - Mondo Music | Aerugo - DEMO MMXII | Hive Mind - They Made Me Keeper of the Vineyards | Wretched Worst - Funeral Burning | Profectum Iri - assorted tapes | Owl - Tapes '97-'99 | Askeregn / Vordr split | Wiccans - Field II | Dhampyr - Ashes of the Frail; Vanity/Senility | White Medal / Caina split | Sleepy Hollow editions (ltd. cassettes, released by Bob Bellerue; artists include OPPONENTS, Husere Grav, Penny Royale, Rust Worship, Diablo, and others) | The Gate - Destruction of Darkness | High School Confidential - She Looked So Good in Red | Modern Howl - assorted releases | Floridian Winter - What's Next; Morals Come Last | Black Lands - s/t | Ives - Ugliness and Its Proud Bearer | the circle and the point, Sleepwalkers Local, Chapels - 3-way split | York Factory Complaint - Remorse of Conscience | Altar of Flies / Sewer Election split | Âmes Sanglantes - Have You Come Here To Torment Us Before The Time? | Black Leather Jesus - Even Deeper | Future Blondes - Feather 17 | Obscurer - Shining Arbors | Philippe Petit - asorted releases | Verglas - Satanisme Juvenile; MCMXCVIII | Nuit Noire - The Gigantic Hideout; Pleine Lune | Demonologists / Gnaw Their Tongues split | TenHornedBeast / Husere Grav - Ten Graves | Arvo Zylo / Blood Rhythms - split | The Communion - assorted releases | Highgate - Shrines to the Warhead | Abysmal - demos LP | Occultation - Three & Seven | Shaved Women - s/t; Static | Bereft - assorted releases | Ides - Demo MMXII.