The top five horror movies of 2012 start with a mainstream feature. Sinister debuted at the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival in Texas. Ethan Hawke, an actor who has not attempted horror since 2009 in Daybreakers, stars as a writer who uncovers a horrible secret about his new abode. Things gradually deteriorate once he discovers a box of home movies in the attic.
Viewers cannot help but feel a sense of dismay watching the family man unravel while attempting to keep his brood safe. Eerie images and moody lighting add to the overall effect of impending doom. Sinister flips the tables by creating a threat in the most unlikely of places.
Execution makes this piece stand out from the rest of the bunch. Hawke’s character successfully morphs from a perturbed family man into a fanatical impromptu detective without coming off cheesy or contrived. Audiences actually care about the family’s well-being and want to see them in a better place.
Previous works from Sinister director Scott Derrickson include The Exorcism of Emily Rose and The Day the Earth Stood Still. Surprisingly enough, the film managed to take hackneyed clichés (footage, possessed homes) and turn them into palatable material. ****Spoiler alert ahead***** The film receives special accolades for not taking the easy way out and providing viewers with a definite un-Hollywood ending. It calls to mind foreign horror, where no one and nothing is off-limits when it comes to a shocking kill.
Sinister drew praise from critics and audiences alike for its fresh take on horror. Many draw comparisons to Insidious (2011) for the ability to subtly grab viewers and climax with an unexpected bang. The movie will keep true horror fans glued to their seats until the end-credits.
2) The Cabin in the Woods
Creative minds behind Buffy the Vampire Slayer conjured up The Cabin in the Woods. Cheeky nods to the entire genre made fans of critics and audiences everywhere. The film premiered with Sinister at the annual SXSW festival. What starts as a standard horror premise (weekend in the woods) evolves into so much more by the end.
Immediately viewers meet the stars / victims of this highly entertaining romp. Chris Hemsworth, currently known for his Thor roles, portrays a jock that inevitably emerges as a hero. Hemsworth, along with several other young adult clichés that include a stoner, slut and intellectual head out into the woods for rest and relaxation. Sex is par for the course considering this is a send-up of horror films. Opening dialogue provides a brief glimpse into future plot twists.
Everything seems basic about the film until a pivotal scene occurs mimicking another horror classic, The Evil Dead. The intellectual cast member did not bone up on horror 101 and unleashes chaos on the unsuspecting cast. One cannot help but feel confusion during revelations that outside personnel are watching everything unfold and not doing anything to save the hapless cast.
Cabin in the Woods seemed to embody multiple genres. Nudity and violence made the flick an excellent horror film. True enthusiasts will find joy during the final scenes when a bevy of well-known creatures wreaks havoc on the monitoring facility. Reasoning behind all the goings-on takes the movie to a philosophical level. The film explores common horror stereotypes and serves as a beneficial blueprint to aspiring filmmakers.
Joss Whedon takes viewers on an emotional rollercoaster throughout the movie. Comedic breathers in-between scary moments balance out the film without minimizing horror factors. This surprise hit is definitely worth checking out.
3) Dark Shadows
It is almost impossible not to mention Dark Shadows when listing top horror movies of 2012. Younger generations may not be familiar with the brooding 60s-era soap opera, but Johnny Depp as a vampire attracted audience members. Director Tim Burton took previously dark story lines and injected a little humor.
Dark Shadows focuses on the (mis)adventures of Barnabas Collins (Depp). Entombed for 200 years, he returns to the loving arms of his highly dysfunctional family. Michelle Pfeiffer plays a distant relative who currently controls the family fortune. Witches and death pepper the plot, effectively turning the feature into something of a dark comedy. The film follows several intricate plotlines in a nod to the original programming format.
Twilight converted vampirism into something cute and cuddly. Shadows returned the genre to something confusing and moody. The film offers an adult take on immortality and removes the shimmering exterior.
This particular film featured a ridiculous amount of star power. Danny Elfman provided the feature soundtrack. Helena Bonham Carter, a crazed witch in Harry Potter, stars as a psychiatrist. Watchmen’s Jackie Earle Hayley made for an effectively eerie caretaker. Chloe Grace Moretz, who cut her teeth on horror, shines as a restless teenager guiding Barnabus through modern society.
Original Shadows fans did not understand Burton’s modern interpretation. General audiences responded favorably to the fish-out-of-water demeanor of vampire Barnabus. Like Cabin in the Woods, viewers endure an emotional rollercoaster watching Pfeiffer explain automobiles after Collins confronts the woman who changed his life forever.
Critics were not as kind to the film. Many stated a lack of direction and felt the characters were transparent. Anyone who adored The Nightmare before Christmas totally gets this movie. 2012 was definitely a year of experimental horror and flicks like Dark Shadows embody a different type of scare.
4) Paranormal Activity 4
There are some people immediately turned off at the mention of this franchise. Paranormal Activity 4 (PA4) has redeeming qualities and retains hapless audience members wondering about the fate of Katie’s SUPER dysfunctional family. The movie successfully misdirects viewers, making later plot twists especially appreciated.
The movie opens in a similar manner to previous Activity features. Viewers receive a glimpse into the lives of teenager Alex, her younger brother and their parents who appear to be five seconds from divorcing. Their relationship status is not integral to the plot but it becomes important once the weird stuff starts. A young neighbor named Robbie brings chaos and mayhem to the household’s quiet existence.
Anyone who has not seen PA4 should ignore biased comments regarding the feature. The first groundbreaking installment inspired a host of sub par copycats that turned many viewers off from found-camera footage. In an effort to keep things fresh, webcams capture eerie events in “real time” and record for later review. Some of the best moments occur as Alex chats online, very oblivious to additional activity in the background.
Without giving away too much of the plot, it is safe to say whatever direction viewers take changes about halfway through the feature. Robbie, a certified weirdo, is holding on to some major secrets with his mother (Katie!). Brady Allen, the child actor portraying Robbie did an excellent job in his otherworldly role. He managed to be ominous without coming off hammy. In true Paranormal fashion, no one has a happy ending.
The Paranormal franchise accomplished something attempted by only a few features. End-credits reveal a scene set in Spanish that could signal the start of another supernatural movie dynasty. PA4 raised more questions than it answered (anyone surprised?) and another installment seems more than likely.
5) The Pact
The Pact had limited theatrical release but gained favorable status through on-demand sites like Netflix. Viewers immediately note the feature stars Casper van Dien (Johnny Rico) of Starship Troopers fame. What starts as rehashed territory evolves into a refreshing take on the haunted house genre.
Viewers immediately enter the obviously troubled existence of Nicole, portrayed by Agnes Bruckner. It appears to be a night like most others, except she is preparing bury her mother. A brief telephone argument with her sister reveals the family has a lot going on, including alleged childhood abuse. Things immediately start to go wrong for Nicole during a video call with her estranged daughter.
Fast forward to the next morning and Annie, Nicole’s sister, enters the picture. She invites a cousin and her young niece to the house while attempting to uncover Nicole’s whereabouts. At this point, The Pact morphs into a suspenseful, spine-tingling mystery. Director Nicholas McCarthy successfully pulls audiences into Annie’s world and delivers carefully placed scares.
Mr. McCarthy converts an average ghost story into something creative by turning an intangible threat into a very real entity. Casper van Dien’s detective character questions Annie’s sanity along with the viewing audience. Eerie cutaways reveal missing pieces to the family’s sordid past. Actress Haley Hudson (Weeds) makes an effective psychic who assists Annie with her final stand.
Some films opt for total character annihilation but The Pact ends on a happy note. **spoiler alert** Viewers be forewarned – the detective dies rather suddenly towards the end, providing valuable insight into a major plot twist. A surprising scene immediately before the closing credits takes viewers back to older cinema when protagonists always came back for more. It is definitely worth a look and stands as one of the top five horror movies of 2012.