Papa Smerph's Top Ten Horror Movies Of 2017, Part I
I’ve been floating the idea of top ten lists for the site since the beginning of EGC, but Jordan has repeatedly nixed the idea claiming that “Everyone does that.” He doesn’t want to be like everyone else, of course. His vision for EGC is to be a unique family-oriented voice promoting ALL things Geek Culture as a positive Way of Being. I laud him for his vision, respect it, and support him. Admittedly, he has a point. Many sites contain lists about the genre they use as their contextual milieu. However, I would argue that the reason that people do top ten lists is that they readily enumerate items for those of us who are Obsessively Compulsive about such things.
Lists organize concepts into neat nuggets of information that invite discourse and comparison. They serve as a touchstone to communicate where we’ve been and where we want to go. Finally, I told him that we could put my name in the article so that he could disavow himself of the content. (It’s not a vainglorious attempt to promote my Geek name. Although I AM vain, and I am EQUALLY glorious.)
Last year, I watched a lot of horror movies. I think that as my Mom’s cancer became worse, and my mood withdrew, I sought to escape the realities of life by wallowing in the darkness of fictional horror. Not only did I watch over 150 horror movies, but I read a lot too. If you were to take a gander at my kindle, you would find the names of authors who specialize in horror: Rachel Aukes, Tamara Rose Blodgett, Joe Hill, Stephen King, Scott Nicholson, T. W. Piperbrook, Willow Rose, Iain Rob Wright, and many others. I imbued my senses with darkness in order to be blinded, deafened, to be desensitized to feeling, to be nestled in the cold, unfeeling embrace of horror.
Yet, the more movies I watched last year, the more substance I found. Don’t get me wrong. There were some real stinkers. I don’t want to mention any names, but I can think of two big budget movies starring A-list actors that were awful. One involves a parental figure, and the other is a rip on Aliens. Aside from those standouts, overall I was pleasantly surprised by the horror offerings of 2017. I had been concerned that the genre was being diluted by horror comedies, found-footage, and supernatural possession stories, but there was a lot of diversity in what I saw. I will boldly claim that 2017 was a good year for horror.
What follows is my Top Ten List of the movies that were released in the USA in 2017. Some of these movies were released independently years before they actually made it to the land of the free and home of the brave, and I’m sure people could argue trivialities, but I think I’ve given my caveat. Also, some of these movies didn’t get a wide release until last year. I’m not intentionally disrespecting our international audience, nor am I ignoring original release dates, I’m just giving a matrix for understanding how I came about establishing the pool from which I judged the movies I watched. Release dates are a muddled process and I’m just explaining a note. I don’t think it’s worth arguing about.
As for how I chose my top ten: during the course of the year, as I watched these horror movies, I gave a number rating to the movies I saw. Then at the end of the year, I re-watched the ten movies I liked best for this list, and eventually ordered them from ten to 1. Consider these mini-reviews in which I give you the rank and what I like about these movies. I will not give spoilers. I just want to tease a little, so that if you haven’t watched these yet, then maybe you might want to. It is purely a labor of love to watch horror movies, and yes, I mean EVEN the stinkers. Evil Dead is now considered a classic and way back in the 80s, it was not.
Ted Levine, Samantha Isler, Danny Goldring, Troy Ruptash, Ben Schneider
When the sins of the past threaten the future, how far would you go to bring someone back?
Synopsis and Mini-Review
Dig Two Graves is a smart, gothic, character-driven narrative involving Jaqueline (Jake) Mather and her grandfather Sheriff Waterhouse. Both of these characters are haunted by their past mistakes, and are forced to confront the ramifications of their choices, while attempting to resolve those in the face of present circumstances. Jake and her brother were jumping simultaneously into the waters of a rock quarry, when Jake chickens out as her brother jumps. Jake commiserates over the fact that her brother died as a consequence of a thrill-seeking, poor choice. When 3 gypsy moonshiners approach Jake with the offer to bring her brother back to life in exchange for another life, she is tempted to bargain with them. She only has to persuade her best friend to come with her to the quarry. It would be so easy, since she knows he has a crush on her.
Sheriff Waterhouse is haunted by the choices he made as a deputy to cover up for the previous sheriff’s indiscretions. There is blood on his hands and that blood has already tainted his grand-daughter who he absolutely adores. Her moral dilemma only serves to recall his previous moral dilemma. A prior evil is haunting the possibility of a new evil. Is it HIS revenge that we are waiting to see enacted, or is it possible that these moonshiners are seeking to enact their own form of supernatural revenge?
The interplay between Ted Levine (Sheriff Waterhouse) and Samantha Isler (Jake) are the best parts of this movie. Their relationship is heart-warming, while simultaneously a source of eerie tension. They are both equally tortured. Jake’s pain and loss are complicated with the angst of approaching adulthood. Waterhouse’s pain and loss are multiplied by the years of regret that life compounds on those who live long. When each actor is alone on screen, they captivate. When they are together, the chemistry is reactive. Metaphors, mood, and lighting are all used to infuse this tale with ideas that follow you even after the credits roll. The cinematography is stellar and the setting is an active character in the story. I think of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher where even the curtains are described in minute detail. It was a very good movie that continues to keep me thinking. It was my number 10.
Steven Yeun, Samara Weaving, Steven Brand, Kerry Fox, Caroline Chikezie, Dallas Roberts
Hostile. Work. Environment.
Synopsis and Mini-Review
Mayhem is a very different type of movie in comparison with Dig Two Graves. Whereas Dig Two Graves is set in backwoods and spacious terrain, Mayhem is set in an ugly, monochromatic office building. It is best classified as an Action Horror Comedy with some really dark and gruesome kills. Mayhem has dystopian future elements which include a contagious virus that causes a reduction of inhibitions and spontaneous acting on impulses. It satirizes the office experience in a way that causes you to wonder at how thin the veil between civil and chaotic, appropriate and inappropriate, right and wrong.
Derek Cho (Steven Yeun) is a lawyer that works for a law firm that has effectively demurred his enthusiasm for his profession. His superior blames him for bungling a case which results in sufficient losses to warrant his dismissal. As he is escorted to the front door, the building goes into lockdown. A dangerously contagious virus has been detected in the building. No one can go in or out. When Derek realizes that he has this virus, and that he cannot be held responsible for his actions while under the influence of the virus, chaos ensues.
Fun, anarchistic, and visceral are some of the ways that I would describe it. It has silly undertones which might make this a difficult watch for some people, but I enjoyed it just a tad more than my number 10 and I wanted to include this movie for it’s offbeat personality. Samara Weaving is a very attractive foil to Steven Yeun and their chemistry works. I love dystopian themes. The kills are gory. The setting is claustrophobic. The movie works on a number of levels. Those are some of the reasons that make this my number 9.
(To be Continued)